Analyst Sees Thermometer Plunge and C3 Ratings Rise

Frigid January gets TV companies off to a hot start in 2014
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Bad weather has meant good ratings for the TV business.

Analyst Michael Nathanson of MoffettNathanson Research looked at the C3 ratings for January and found that audiences were up 2.5% in the 18-49 demo that drives ad revenues.

"Due perhaps to the miserably cold conditions in many parts of the country, this is the best aggregate change since the summer months," Nathanson said in a report Tuesday.

Broadcast gained 1.6%, with the networks that hand NFL conference championship games—CBS and Fox—putting double-digit hikes on the scoreboard. (NBC was up 1% and ABC was down 19%.)

In cableland, C3 ratings were up 3%.

Among cable programmers, AMC Networks posted the strongest ratings growth, with a 14% gain from a year ago despite not airing its top show, The Walking Dead, which returned Sunday. Also positive in January were Discovery Communications and Viacom.

Nathanson has been voicing concern that a downward ratings trend could hurt TV stocks, which posted big gains in 2013. "Although we are only one cold month into the year, the improvement in overall ratings trends is supportive of the group — especially at Discovery which suffered through a terrible fourth quarter and Viacom, which seems to be perpetually expected to hit a ratings skid," he said.

The fourth quarter was a rough one for TV networks, both in terms of ratings and ad revenues. Comparing January to the fourth quarter, Nathanson found that Discovery made the biggest turn around, jumping to a 1.6% gain from a 9.3% decline (based on revenue-weighted key demo ratings). 21st Century Fox's networks posted a 6.6% decline in January, but that was a big improvement from the 11% drop they suffered last quarter.

On the downside, AMC Networks posted a 14.2% gain in January, but that pales in comparison to its 23.7% jump in the fourth quarter. And Time Warner’s losses worsened to 13.1% in January from a 9.8% decline in Q4.

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