Univision Communications Inc. last week proved once again that it's a money-making machine, reporting another quarter of impressive earnings.
The Spanish-language media conglomerate reported that net income for the second quarter ended June 30 jumped 62 percent to $33.4 million (28 cents per diluted share), up from $20.5 million (17 cents) in the year-earlier quarter. The per-share earnings handily beat analysts' consensus estimate of 24 cents. Revenue rose 34 percent to $231.1 million.
The company's stock price, which has been moving almost continually north, edged up about 4 percent on the day after its earnings announcement. It closed at $113.25 a share on July 19, up from around $70 a share a year ago, prompting the Century City-based company to announce a 2-for-1 stock split.
The stock runup is not without foundation. Univision is the dominant force in the Spanish-speaking TV market, reaching 92 percent of Latino households in the United States and attracting 82 percent of the American Latino population to its prime-time shows.
It is the fastest-growing broadcaster around, and while its recently unveiled Internet strategy has been questioned as a little slow in coming, Univision continues to win the plaudits of analysts and investors alike.
"They are the 800-pound gorilla in the space," said David Miller, entertainment and media analyst for Sutro & Co. in Los Angeles. "They continue to position themselves as the premium branded Hispanic broadcast and media provider."
Nevertheless, Univision retains a somewhat mysterious air, because its executives almost never talk to the media (the company declined comment for this article). Billionaire Chairman and Chief Executive A. Jerrold Perenchio has fired executives for speaking to the press about corporate achievements or strategy, without getting prior authorization to do so. Former Clinton cabinet member Henry Cisneros is Univision's president and public face, but Perenchio continues to call the shots, people familiar with the company say.
Given how the profits are piling up, no one seems to care much about Perenchio's silence.
"This is a company that knows it is the leader in its field," said Anne Thompson, an analyst with Wedbush Morgan Securities in Los Angeles. "It's obvious they know they need strong leadership and strong relationships with their programming providers."
Univision has become a staple for the Latino television viewer, through its emphasis on programming that focuses on recently arrived immigrants. The bread and butter of its success has been telenovelas, prime-time soap operas airing five nights a week that are produced mostly south of the border, as well as the long-running variety show "Sabado Gigante" (Big Saturday).
While the majority of its programming is still produced in Latin America and distributed through a deal with Mexican television giant Televisa, Univision has scored a big hit with a locally produced sitcom "Estamos Unidos" (United Always) starring 1996 Miss Universe Alicia Machado, about coping with life in the United States.
In addition, the company is preparing a Spanish-language version of the hit show "Who Wants to be a Millionaire," which will differ from ABC's version in that it will include behind-the-scenes profiles of the contestants vying for the prize.
The media conglomerate's success at attracting viewers is drawing the attention of the major advertisers on English-language TV. Just as Univision is initiating its strategy of pursuing more national advertising, companies such as Coca-Cola Co., Procter & Gamble Co. and Nestle S.A. have started buying ad time on the network.
One area that has drawn questions is the network's Internet strategy. Univision has refused to air any advertisements from dot-com companies, apparently to discourage competition, but until recently had no online presence of its own. That changed in June, when the company quietly rolled out its portal, which offers news and some online shopping opportunities, but the dot-com advertising blackout continues. Some analysts question whether the site is sophisticated enough to appeal to hip, middle-class Latino youth.
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