Well, it’s earnings season, and at least two content powerhouses have made pretty good showings this week despite the tough economy and relatively uncertain advertising market. The Walt Disney Co’s cable division, whose ESPN and Disney Channel cable properties oversee some of the highest-value content on cable, reported a 12% increase in revenue to $2.6bln in 3Q and net income of $1.28bln compared to $1.18bln in the same period last year. Most of that increase stemmed from higher affiliate and ad revenue at ESPN. Meanwhile, Viacom’s media nets division saw an 11% year-over-year increase in revenue to $2.14bln, with a 4% leap in net income to $765mln. Interestingly, Viacom’s overall domestic ad revenue was up 1%.

What does this all mean? For one thing, it suggests that the cable side of the business remains strong and continues to drive much of the cashflow growth at large media conglomerates. After all, consider that Disney’s cable division posted that 12% gain in revenue despite the fact that the entertainment firm’s total revenue—including everything from TV to theme parks to merchandise—was up only 2.1%. Still, the relative strength of the cable side of the business can be hard to gauge. Consider that much of Viacom’s media nets success stems from its “Rock Band” video game franchise rather than any kind of big uptick in cable-related revenue. In fact, Viacom execs have already acknowledged a weakened scatter market for TV advertising (ie, the ad-hoc buys that are separate from upfront commitments). And interestingly, it seems as if cable ad strength has favored shows with older demos (thanks to pharmaceutical and brokerage spots). That’s perhaps great for broadcast net CBS, which skews a bit older, but it could also spell hard times for Viacom’s cable nets, most of which are oriented toward younger demos.

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