5 Great Media Stocks for 2017

 | Dec 30, 2016 | 8:00 AM EST
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The media and entertainment industry was turbulent in 2016, as the arena for over-the-top services became more crowded than ever and a number of mega-deals were announced or fizzled out.

Much of that activity is expected to carry over into 2017, with a number of new over-the-top (OTT) offerings slated to debut, and rumors of more big-time consolidation already swirling in the air.

So who is Wall Street watching closely as we head into the new year? Here are a few analysts' top picks:

CBS (CBS)

With the long-debated Viacom (VIAB) deal now in its rear-view mirror, CBS looks all the more attractive to Stifel analyst Ben Mogil. Mogil has a "buy" rating and $68 price target on shares of CBS, which on Thursday closed at $64.51.

"The ending of the Viacom deal in our view is positive. Although the deal would have had a lot of accretion, it would have required a tremendous amount of execution," Mogil said by phone. "Ultimately, the plan for integration wasn't clear."

That doesn't signal the end of all deals for the media giant, however. CBS could make a play for Sony's (SNE) entertainment arm, Sony Pictures, in 2017, which could fill in some gaps for CBS, Mogil noted.

"I think certainly TV would make a ton of sense for them because Sony is a great TV producer," he said. "Sony has international distribution, while CBS does not. I certainly see the investor logic in [that] deal."

Jefferies analyst John Janedis views CBS as the "best positioned" media company to benefit from changing TV viewing habits and the OTT market. He has a "buy" rating and $65 price target on CBS stock.

"By not having to protect the bundle/a large portfolio of networks, CBS has the ability to negotiate better deals, with international syndication, Showtime, and new entrants all contributing factors," Janedis said by email.

AMC Entertainment (AMC) and Cinemark Holdings (CNK)

Hollywood is set to have another big year of ticket sales in 2016 -- following last year's record-setting $11.1 billion at the box office -- and 2017 looks like it will continue seeing similar gains. Those expectations have analysts looking optimiatically at movie theater operators AMC Entertainment (AMC) and Cinemark Holdings (CNK) .

"2017 is expected to be another record year at the domestic box office providing 4-6% growth, pricing power [will be] enhanced by theater enhancements (reclining seating, large screen formats, reserved seating, etc.), expanded food and beverage (especially adult beverages), and potential for better forex from Latin America in the second half of 2017," said Jeff Logsdon, president of entertainment and gaming industry research firm JBL Advisors, referring to Cinemark's advantages in 2017.

Logsdon has a "buy" rating and a $50 price target on Cinemark stock, which closed trading on Thursday at $38.46.

Both Cinemark and AMC have been upgrading their theaters with larger reclining seats and alcoholic beverage options like beer and wine. AMC plans to spend about $600 million over the next five years on a reseating initiative that will put bigger reclining seats into 1,800 of its about 5,000 screens, which should benefit its core business, said MKM Partners analyst Eric Handler.

This year, AMC acquired two theater operators, Carmike Cinemas and Odeon & UCI Cinemas, for $1.2 billion each. The deals are expected to make AMC, which is controlled by the Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group, one of the largest movie theater chains in the U.S., operating 900 venues with more than 10,000 screens globally.

the reseating plans will extend to Carmike and Odeon in 2018, Handler said.

Netflix (NFLX)

In the shift away from traditional pay-TV services to Internet TV, Netflix has no doubt been one of the biggest beneficiaries. Few streaming services can compete with its library of highly-acclaimed original content, and Netflix expects to ramp up original programming production by 65% in 2017 to 1,000 hours, up from 600 hours in 2016. More original content, coupled with expansion into additional international markets, positions Netflix well in 2017.

"NFLX has already achieved a significant global presence with over 90 million members, more than 3x the largest pay-TV operator (outside of China)," MKM Partners analyst Rob Sanderson said in a Dec. 20 note. "With a large lead, established brand, the best app and device footprint and the largest content budget, we think NFLX will continue to be one of the largest OTT providers in every region served as the traditional television world moves into the era of Internet delivery."

Sanderson, who has a "buy" rating and $165 price target on Netflix stock, said Netflix will begin its third year of middle Europe expansion in 2017, which is typically a "break-out period" for net activations and profitability. One caution, however, might be Amazon (AMZN) Prime Video's own global expansion into many of the countries that Netflix has entered, often at a lower price point.

Scripps Network Interactive (SNI)

Scripps has had a mixed year in 2016 due, in part, to rising pressures from streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon's Prime Video and Hulu, among others. The linear TV content provider saw its first quarterly drop in affiliate fees in August, which it blamed on subscriber losses and a tough fee negotiations process spurred by industry consolidation.

Its most recent quarter, however, was more promising: Scripps, which owns lifestyle channels such as HGTV, Food Network and the Travel Channel, saw improved ratings and has since grown business internationally.

With more consolidation on the horizon (i.e. AT&T (T) and Time Warner (TWX) ), Scripps should have an easier time negotiating affiliate fees relative to peers like Discovery Communications (DISCA) and AMC Networks (AMCX) , said Stifel's Mogil.

"Scripps only has six channels, so their conversations with multichannel video programming distributors are much less contentious," Stifel's Mogil explained. "They're coming in with a smaller ask and lots of digital opportunities. Ratings are also working."

Mogil has a "buy" rating and $75 price target on shares of Scripps, which closed trading on Thursday at $71.79.

21st Century Fox (FOXA)

Media giant 21st Century Fox recently made headlines for its $14.6 billion bid for European satellite TV operator Sky. The bid comes five years after Fox's former incarnation, News Corporation, offered to pay $12 billion for Sky. Talks are ongoing, but the potential for further international growth makes the stock potentially a bit more attractive than rivals CBS and Viacom.

"We think 21st Century Fox's EBITDA growth will be at the top end of the peer group over the next couple of years, driven by both the international and domestic cable assets," Jefferies' Janedis said by email. "We expect the valuation gap between FOX and peers to narrow."

Janedis has a "buy" rating and $35 price target on Fox stock, which closed trading on Thursday at $28.28.

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