Will 2024 bring good tidings to media and telecom companies? That’s unlikely

It’s human nature for a new year to bring optimism and hope.

For executives, investors and employees in the entertainment and telecommunications industries, 2024 is set to disappoint.

Maybe that’s too grinchy. Some things will get better. The actors’ and writers’ strikes are over. The 2024 U.S. presidential election should help boost advertising dollars as global TV ad revenue is on pace to decline 18% this year, according to media investment firm GroupM.

Companies such as Warner Bros. Discovery and Disney cut thousands of jobs and dramatically slashed content costs to boost free cash flow and pay down debt. That could give investors a reason to be more sanguine about their business prospects next year. Disney recently restored its dividend for early 2024 after suspending it for more than three years.

Still, legacy media companies including Disney, Paramount Global, Warner Bros. Discovery and Comcast’s NBCUniversal are trying to figure out what investors want since pulling back on a narrative of subscription streaming video growth that dominated 2020 and 2021. Warner Bros. Discovery and Comcast have outperformed the S&P 500 in 2023, though just barely. Disney and Paramount Global have underperformed.

The overriding narrative for 2024 appears to be one of uncertainty on three key fronts: interest rates, regulatory policy and overall growth prospects. The industry should have more clarity in 2025 on all three topics to propel it forward, said Corey Martin, managing partner at entertainment law firm Granderson Des Rochers. Next year will probably be defined by preparation for action rather than actual transformation, Martin said.

“2024 is probably going to be a year of sustained uncertainty,” said Martin. “It’s really a continuation of a pattern we’ve seen since the midpoint of 2022.”

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