Even before a shot has been fired in what looks increasingly like Gulf War II, European media stocks have been taking a shelling.
In the US, Disney, AOL Time Warner and the cable companies Adelphia and Charter have been featured in bleak headlines, but their shares have dipped only modestly. In Japan, media players Shochiku and Toei have tracked sideways or managed small improvements. But in Europe it is all bad. Data for Europe's quoted TV companies show shares down typically 10%-15% in the last week alone.
"It is not just Vivendi Universal that is driving down the market. Rather it has more to do with the recent meetings that companies have had with brokers and the lack of visibility going forward," said Mark Harrington, London-based media analyst at investment bank JP Morgan. "TF1, M6 and Publicis, for instance, are now telling us that they are looking at a poor third quarter and are unwilling to say much about Q4. Compare that with a year ago and they were prepared to give numbers going forward 12 months."
Vivendi Universal remains a pre-occupation. After appearing to put nearly everything on the block and then to have second thoughts about some disposals, new chief executive Jean-Rene Fourtou is today (Wednesday 25 Sept) expected to use a board meeting to outline which parts of the group are to be retained and which to be sold.
Brokers expect that Fourtou will today announce the re-negotiated sale of Italian pay-TV operator Telepiu to News Corp. The new price is understood to be close to Euros1bn, a long way short of the Euros 1.5bn previously fixed by the two groups. And even then Vivendi is unlikely to see more than 60%-70% in cash, with the rest spread over five years.
JP Morgan's Harrington said: "the numbers we are hearing certainly reflect the distressed nature of Vivendi and are showing a 20%-40% discount to expected valuations. Until the group can nail two or three of the big disposals - Canal Plus Technologies, Vivendi Publishing and Telepiu look the most likely to go first - it will be difficult for it to get the prices it wants."
The combination of media's unstable finances, the threat of war and prolonged unpicking of Vivendi Universal make it tough to pin values on any Euro-media group.
Kirch group's administrators last week said they were satisfied to have four bids on the table for Kirch Media worth up to Euros 2bn, excluding the sports rights. But if stockmarkets drop sharply further, the bidding consortia could be forced into retreat. ProSiebenSAT1, the jewel in Kirch Media's portfolio, was this week down 12% at Euros6.5 and a market capitalisation of Euros 1.23bn.
Elsewhere in Germany, where there is scarcely room for further bad news, post-production outfit Das Werk has lost 27% to Euros 0.49 in the last seven days. IM Internationalmedia (parent of Intermedia) lost another 11% to Euros 0.7, valuing it at just Euros 21.6m. For a company that had a ticket of over Euros 1bn when it floated three years ago that is a 98% collapse. It is now worth less than Intertainment, the first company to have been punctured by the pricking of the Neuer Markt bubble two years ago.
Mediaset, the Italian media giant owned by prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, is down 17% on the week to just Euros 5.92 and a market capitalisation of just Euros 6.8bn. Shares in Sogecable, the Spanish content and distribution conglomerate also recorded a 25% drop to Euros 11.05.
The UK's ITV joint-operators Carlton Communications and Granada were beaten up (Carlton was down 17% to£1.115 and Granada down 16% to 68.75p) after it was revealed this weekend that Dawn Airey, until recently hailed as a potential saviour of the struggling Channel 3, had instead joined News Corp satellite venture BSkyB. But even that did not benefit BSkyB, where shares lost 15% to£4.93, faced with the ITV twins promising to regain audience ratings with a record-breaking programme spend.