The profit made by U.S. TV networks might shrink by 41% to $22 billion by 2025, according to analyst Todd Juenger of Sanford Bernstein.
Juenger said his fairly dire assessment is based on a set of relatively benign assumptions.
He posited pay TV subscribers falling to 82 million in seven years from about 97 million now. That includes virtual MVPDs growing to 18 million subs from 5 million now.
He also assumed affiliate fees per subscriber will increase at a 5.7% compounded annual growth rate, while chalking up a 1.5% annual decline in advertising revenue. Programming costs are expected to rise 6.4% while other expenses increase 1.2%.
"Many investors will disagree with the various line items, but we think it's fair to say that none of these assumptions are aggressively punitive," Juenger said. "And, very importantly, we are not including the impact of a recession, which hurts advertising by definition and, we think, will be a cliff event for cord-cutting (surely there will be a recession between now and 2025)."
The drop in earnings will reduce the enterprise value of the TV network business, currently $317 billion, by $130 billion, a loss the size of the current enterprise values of CBS, Viacom, Discovery, AMC Networks, Lionsgate, Sinclair Broadcast Group, Nexstar and Tegna combined.
“This report focuses only on the conventional TV network profit pool," Juenger noted. "It does not consider the upside/offset from new direct-to-consumer models.
"Although, frankly, if we included those efforts, even over the (long) time frame of this analysis, it would cause cash flow to further decrease, not increase,” Juenger added.
He said building direct-to-consumer businesses will be expensive and not everyone will succeed. And for those that do succeed, margins will be lower than the current TV business.