* EPS 53 cents vs 51 cents Street view
* Sees $640 mln in sales, EPS of 7 cents in Q4
* Company disbands Guitar Hero unit, cuts 500 jobs
* Shares fall 7.3 percent after hours
(Adds buyside, CEO comment)
By Liana B. Baker
NEW YORK, Feb 9 Activision Blizzard Inc's
(ATVI.O) first-quarter outlook missed Wall Street expectations
and it will shut down the unit that makes "Guitar Hero" music
games, sending its shares down more than 7 percent.
The company forecast revenue of 70 cents per share for the
entire year, which falls short of analysts' average estimate of
83 cents per share, according to Thomson-Reuters I/B/E/S.
"Guidance for 2011 was very disappointing -- far weaker
than people expected since the company has a long track record
of growing earnings," said MKM Partners analyst Eric Handler.
Activision Blizzard shares fell to $10.81 in extended
trading after closing at $11.69 on Nasdaq.
Activision Blizzard said it would disband its "Guitar Hero"
business unit and stop development of its next "Guitar Hero"
game because the popularity of music-themed video games has
faded. It said it would cut 500 people out of its global
workforce of 7,000.
In December, Viacom Inc VIAb.N sold Harmonix Music
Systems, the developer behind the Rock Band franchise, to the
investment firm Columbus Nova and gained up to $200 million in
the deal, analysts have estimated. [ID:nN23142923]
Despite the Activision Blizzard stock sell-off on
Wednesday, some investors like Harry Rady, chief investment
officer of Rady Asset Management, cheered the company's
decision to scale back on titles like "Guitar Hero," and focus
on its hit games like "Call of Duty."
"Anytime a company focuses on its most valuable franchises
and on making them better and more profitable -- cutting off
the arm to make the body stronger -- that shows a disciplined
management team," Rady, who owns Activision Blizzard shares,
Music games are expensive to manufacture, between the
licensing fees for the songs and the cost of making the
hardware such as plastic guitars.
"We simply cannot make these games profitable based on
current economics," Activision Publishing Chief Executive Eric
Hirshberg told analysts on a conference call.
The company also said it would not release a skateboarding
game next year and that it would scrap the game "True Crime:
The company announced a new digital platform, "Beachhead,"
which will focus on the highly successful shooter franchise,
"Call of Duty."
Since its launch in November, "Call of Duty: Black Ops" has
smashed retail records and pulled in more $1 billion in sales.
The company did not announce any news titles for next year
in the Blizzard division, which publishes "World of Warcraft,"
the company's main revenue generator. This lowered the
company's earnings forecast for next year, Chief Executive
Bobby Kotick said in an interview.
"You have to take a conservative view of your outlook when
there's no Blizzard title in the plans," Kotick said.
The company said if it did not release a new Blizzard title
game this year, it would release two in the following year.
Activision Blizzard also said it would repurchase up to
$1.5 billion of outstanding common stock.
For the first quarter of 2011, the company expects earnings
of 7 cents per share on revenue of $640 million. Analysts on
average forecast 10 cents per share on $734.70 million.
On an adjusted basis, EPS was 53 cents a share, beating
analysts' average estimate of 51 cents a share.
Adjusted for various costs, the company's revenue was $2.55
billion, up from $2.50 billion a year earlier. This beat
analysts' average expectation of $2.36 billion, according to
The company was formed in 2008 through the merger of
Activision with Blizzard, the former games unit of France's
Vivendi SA (VIV.PA), which still owns more than half the
(Reporting by Liana B. Baker; Editing by Bernard Orr, Andre
Grenon, Matthew Lewis and Richard Chang)