By Vibhuti Sharma and Helen Coster
(Reuters) - CBS Corp sees advertising prices rising for its slate of TV shows in the upcoming fall programming season, executives said, as the TV broadcaster and media company on Thursday reported first-quarter revenue falling short of analysts' estimates from weaker content licensing and distribution sales.
Revenue from its content licensing and distribution segment fell 3.2 percent to $963 million in the quarter, sending its shares down more than 1 percent to $49.70 in after-market trading.
Executives expressed confidence that 25 percent higher prices for ads sold closer to current primetime shows' air dates, known as the scatter market, suggested prices would also increase for fall shows it plans to preview to advertisers in the next two weeks during the upfront sales season.
First-quarter subscriptions to services such as its CBS All-Access digital service rose 71 percent from last year, the company's biggest quarter of subscription growth from direct to consumer services. CBS attributed that growth to the strength of original programming such as "The Twilight Zone" on CBS All-Access and "Billions" on Showtime. Super Bowl LIII and increases in affiliate and subscription fee revenues also boosted revenue growth.
While media majors Walt Disney Co and AT&T Inc are tapping into their extensive film and TV libraries to launch streaming rivals to Netflix and Amazon.com's Prime Video, smaller players CBS and sister company Viacom Inc. appear to be harmonizing their strategy, focusing on providing original content to other distributors. CBS is on track to invest more than $8 billion in programming this year, according to interim chief executive officer Joseph Ianniello.
"In addition to producing more content for our own brands, our studios are also creating more programming than ever before for third parties," said Ianniello. "We are now producing 80 series across 15 broadcast cable and streaming outlets. That's nearly double the number of series and triple the number of outlets from just five years ago, and it includes a number of high-profile projects as well."
CBS said total revenue rose nearly 11 percent to $4.17 billion, but came in below estimates of $4.30 billion, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.
Net earnings rose to $1.58 billion, or $4.21 per share, in the three months ended March 31, from $511 million, or $1.32 per share, a year earlier.
The year-earlier quarter included a tax benefit of $768 million, the company said.
Excluding certain items, the company earned $1.37 per share, just above analysts' expectation of $1.36.
CBS, home to popular shows such as the "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert," and "The Big Bang Theory", last month suspended the search for a permanent CEO and extended the role of its interim CEO Ianniello, sparking speculation about the company considering for the third time a tie-up with Viacom.
“CBS is very well positioned versus competition, certainly better than the other three broadcast networks, in our opinion,” said Craig A. Huber, an analyst with Huber Research Partners. “Netflix is a tough competitor, no doubt.”
(Reporting by Vibhuti Sharma in Bengaluru and Helen Coster in New York; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila and Kenneth Li)