Peter Kafka

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Viacom’s Fourth Quarter: Not a Disaster

This is the soft bigotry of low expectations: Viacom saw its earnings drop by 70 percent in the last quarter, pushed down by a write-off and weak advertising and DVD sales. But compared to its big media peers, that’s really not so bad.

The numbers: Excluding a $454 million write-off, Viacom (VIA) posted earnings of 76 cents on flat revenues of $4.24 billion. Wall Street had been looking for earnings of 77 cents, but the company did meet the revenue consensus.

The write-off? Just a few million more than the $450 million Viacom announced last fall at the same time it fired 850 people. But since the company doesn’t own any local television stations and hasn’t made any huge bets on the newspaper business in the last year or so, it didn’t have to announce anything really big–that sound you hear is the echo of News Corp. (NWS) and Cablevision (CVC) investors slapping their heads, over and over. (News Corp. is the owner of Dow Jones and this Web site.)

Meanwhile, Viacom’s cable ad business was down, but not off a cliff, slipping a mere three percent, though it will be interesting to see how that broke down by geography. More on that, presumably, during the company’s conference call this morning.

And just like its peers, the company’s DVD business was off, too–down six percent. But the company’s overall movie business (which is much smaller than its cable business) was down just two percent–in part because a bunch of you paid to see “Madagascar 2” apparently.

For more details–including just how much it cost Viacom to can employees last quarter–consult this handy presentation the company has prepared:

viacom pdfFree Legal Forms

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work