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Media stocks clobbered as Netflix drives customers to dump cable

Netflix stock is clearly outperforming its media rivals.

Media companies’ stocks were getting hammered on Thursday, after earnings reports made clear that many are suffering a major exodus as pay-TV subscribers cut the cord, raising concerns about the long-term outlook for the entire sector.

Viacom Inc. VIA, +2.59% led the decliners, trading down more than 20% at its worst levels, after the company reported fiscal third-quarter sales that missed expectations.

The selloff extends a 7.5% slide on Wednesday, and brings the stock’s three-month loss to 41%. In contrast, the S&P 500 has gained 0.3% the last three months, and rival video-streaming service provider Netflix Inc.’s NFLX, +0.70% stock has soared 56%.

“We’re in a mature-to-declining kind of linear TV business as we know it,” said Dish Network Corp. DISH, -1.41% Chief Executive Charlie Ergen on an earnings call Wednesday. “We think we’re at the beginning stages of an OTT business that’s going to grow and accelerate.”

DISH shares were down 2.5% Thursday, after the company said it lost 81,000 pay-TV subscribers during its second quarter, compared with a 44,000 loss in the same period a year ago.

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Viacom’s colorful Chairman Sumner Redstone

Shares of Time Warner Inc. TWX, +1.24% which owns the HBO network, were down about 5% at a nine-month low, extending a 9% loss suffered Wednesday. The company told analysts on a conference call that its recently launched standalone streaming service, HBO Now, will likely generate losses for the remainder of the year.

Chief Financial Officer Howard Averill said that it is typical of an early-stage subscriber business. On a brighter note, for now, less than 1 % of HBO pay-TV subscribers have unbundled to switch to HBO Now, he said.

Analysts said the selling of Time Warner stock is overdone as the company has plenty of ammunition to deal with the changing world..

“Media stocks have suffered in recent days as concerns mount about the cable network ecostructure and the possible implications of declining pay-TV subscribers,” said MKM Partners analyst Eric Handler. “That said, we believe HBO’s growth opportunities remain significant as it builds a larger global subscriber base as does the potential with Warner Bros. as it rolls out its major franchise strategy (DC Comics, Harry Potter, Lego).”

Wunderlich analyst Matthew Harrigan agreed.

“We believe that yesterday’s 9% selloff on buy-rated Time Warner following its Q2 beat was very unwarranted,” said Harrigan. “We expect a near-term rebound as TWX’s high quality earnings and brands should not place the stock in the same bracket as media names with suspect operational momentum.”