Discovery Communications: An In Depth Analysis

DISCK: Discovery Communications Inc. Strong Buy

We recommend Discovery Communications Inc. (NASDAQ:DISCK) (NASDAQ:DISCA) as a Strong Buy, based on strong revenue and profit growth from scientific, educational and non-fiction media content business and ample free cash flows, Fair Value Price of $64.90 per share.


We are reiterating our Strong Buy rating on Discovery Communications Inc. (NASDAQ:DISCK) (NASDAQ:DISCA) Class C Common Shares and reducing our fair intrinsic value target price from $65.67 to $64.90, which is over 20% above current levels.  We expect to see the company generate earnings per share of $2.70 in 2012 and to increase EPS by 15-20% annually over the following three years.


Management: John Hendricks Founded the Discovery Channel in 1985 and still serves as the Chairman of the Board.  David Zaslav has been CEO of Discovery Communications since 2007.  He has executed a number of initiatives that have focused the organization on growth, performance and operational efficiency.  He has directed a strategic effort to clarify and strengthen Discovery’s world-class brands, including a renewed focus on creativity and a nearly two-fold increase in investment in original content.  Prior to Discovery, he had worked at NBC since 1989 and played a part in the creation of CNBC and MSNBC.  Zaslav also oversaw NBC Universal’s interests in A&E, The History Channel, The Biography Channel, National Geographic International, the Sundance Channel and TiVo.

Business Overview: Discovery Communications Inc is an industry leading developer of high-profile, educational, scientific, nature-oriented and other documentary quality content for many media platforms including television, digital, mobile and publishing.  Previously headquartered in Englewood, CO, DISCK relocated to Silver Sprint Maryland in 2009 and has offices in New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Sterling, VA.  Discovery Communications Inc. (NASDAQ:DISCK) (NASDAQ:DISCA) has 4600 employees; only about 5.4% are subject to collective bargaining.  On September 17, 2008, Discovery Communications Inc. became a publicly traded company as the result of a corporate reorganization.  The reorganization involved Discovery Holdings spinning off its money-losing Ascent Media subsidiary and merging with Advance Publications’ Advance/Newhouse Communications subsidiary.

The company’s media portfolio includes these popular networks:


Source: Discovery Communications 2011 Annual Report

Ownership: More than 30% of the outstanding stock is controlled by the Advance/Newhouse Programming Partnership, an affiliate of Advance Publications.  The partnership owns 33.2% of the outstanding Class A Shares through its Class A Convertible Preferred Stock and 34.7% of the Class C non-voting Shares through its Class C Convertible Preferred Stock. The partnership owns about $7B worth of stock in Discovery Communications.  The Founder and Chairman John Hendricks owns 1% of the stock and his stake is worth ~$214M. Liberty Media Corp (Capital) (NASDAQ:LMCA)’s John Malone has 10.56M shares representing 2.75% of the company (~$578M). The rest of the executives and board members own about 1.7M shares directly and indirectly through options which provide a satisfactory level of alignment between the interests of stockholders, management and other stakeholders. We would prefer that the company end the tri-share class ownership structure as holders of Class A Shareholders are entitled to one vote per share, Class B Shareholders are entitled to 10 votes per share and Class C holders get no votes. Notable Mutual Fund/Institutional Asset Management owners include Harris Associates (Manager of the Oakmark Funds) with 5.2% of outstanding Class C stock and the Fidelity Contrafund with 6.7% of outstanding Class A stock.


We like the fact that the firm has been able to increase its high consolidated corporate operating margins from 20% in 2003 to 41.8% in YTD 2012 and we feel that the company can maintain or steadily expand firm operating margins, due to its increasing scale and balanced growth from acquisitions and organic growth of the core business.

DISCK has increased its revenue from $1.86 Billion in 2003 to $4.235 Billion in 2011 (10.8% CAGR) and its profits from $100 Million to $1.1B Million (35% CAGR) during the same time period.  DISCK achieved this through organic volume growth as well as selective acquisitions during the period.  FY2011 and YTD 2012 saw revenue growth exceeding 12% and 7% year-over-year respectively. We are especially impressed to see that the company had increased revenues each year since 2003. It even increased revenues by over 2% during the 2009 economic trough.

Source: DISCK’s SEC Registration, DISCK’s 2011 Annual Report and Our Estimates

We are attracted to DISCK because DISCK’s networks have a strong following amongst its viewers.  This loyal viewer base lends itself to natural product placement and sponsorship opportunities as DISCK’s networks rank highly in middle class and affluent households.  The company works hard to build relationships with advertisers and evidence of this can be seen through the exhaustive upfront ad sales process. Most cable networks have one upfront presence location in New York but Discovery Communications has an upfront presence in four major cities. Discovery Communications Inc. (NASDAQ:DISCK) (NASDAQ:DISCA)’s networks benefit from barriers to entry, making it extremely difficult for a startup network to simply replicate the content and compete. For example, a new network may be rejected by some distributors, and even willing partners require initial incentive payments for several years.

Source: Facebook and Discovery Communications 2011 Annual Report

We also believe that the firm can continue to achieve its strong operating margins.  In 2007, DISCK’s segment operating margin was 20% of revenue and the company was able to increase it to 41.8 % in YTD 2012.  Even at the bottom of the economic crisis in 2009, DISCK still recorded a 30% operating margin, which is impressive and shows its ability to mitigate its downside from weak economic environments.  Depreciation and amortization of purchased intangible assets only accounts for 2.65% of revenues and more than covers CapEx.

Source: Discovery Communications 2008-2011 Annual Reports and Our Estimates


Our $64.90 per ADR FV is based on applying a 19 times price to earnings multiple to estimated 2015 earnings per ADR share of $4.80 and discounting the terminal value back to October 2012 at a cost of capital of 11%.  We believe that DISCK is undervalued by 20.9% relative to the current market price.  Although DISCK’s forward Price to Book and Price to Tangible Book ratios are higher than the average broadcast firm, we believe it is justified due to DISCK’s superior franchise and focus on science and outdoor niches, which explains why DISCK’s forward PE is lower than the average broadcast media company.  DISCK also has a lower beta than its peers, even though it offers higher potential return prospects in our opinion.  We also believe that the multiple used is justified considering that the firm has grown faster than its industry on the strength of its superior growth and ability to meet or beat EPS estimates from sell-side analysts.

We believe that the company will continue to grow its core science and outdoor media businesses.  We see continued increases in revenue from advertising and network affiliate revenue. We are glad that the company was able to record a 7% revenue increase in 2012 despite the global economic turmoil headwinds that media companies faced.


The company saw mixed performance during

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