Is ITV plc a better dividend stock than Sky plc and BT Group plc?

Today is dividend payment date for ITV (LSE: ITV) shareholders.

And this should please dividend investors, as not only will shareholders receive their 2015 final dividend of 4.1p per share, but they’ll also receive a ‘special dividend’ of a very generous 10p per share.

Paying out a special dividend is becoming a regular habit for ITV – the company has done so for the past three years.

The ‘special’, combined with the final dividend of 4.1p and the interim dividend of 1.9p brings the total for the year to 16p per share, which on the current share price of 218p is a huge yield of 7.3%.

With ITV paying out such large sums to shareholders, does that make the company the best UK media stock for a dividend investor? Let’s examine dividends from ITV, Sky (LSE: SKY) and BT Group (LSE: BT.A) to determine which stock is superior from a dividend perspective. 

Will special dividends continue? 

ITV has been a strong performer over the last three years, with its share price flying from under 100p in 2012 to around 280p last year.

Revenues have increased significantly in this time, growing from £2,196m in 2012 to £2,972m in 2015, and adjusted earnings per share have risen from 9.1p to 16.5p.

This formidable growth has enabled the company to reward its shareholders well – as witnessed by the 10p special dividend paid out today. Given that the company paid out total dividends of 10.95p last year, that’s dividend growth of 46% in one year!

But is this type of dividend payout and growth sustainable? One key measure of determining whether a company’s payout is sustainable is the dividend coverage ratio – earnings per share divided by dividends per share. A ratio of under 1.5 is seen as risky while a ratio of 2.0 is more healthy.

In ITV’s case, and including the ‘special’, the dividend coverage ratio is a low 1.03, which suggests that it’s unlikely the company will be able to sustain such large payouts going forward.  

Having said that, if you strip away the special dividend, the regular dividend coverage ratio is a more sensible 2.75.

Peer group comparison 

So how does ITV’s dividend yield and coverage ratio compare to rivals Sky and BT Group?

Sky is currently yielding 3.44%, having paid 33p per share to shareholders last year, on adjusted earnings per share of 54p. That’s a healthy dividend yield, but more importantly, Sky’s coverage ratio is 1.64 – a solid figure.  

BT Group’s dividend yield is approximately 3.10%, having paid its shareholders 14p per share last year on adjusted earnings per share of 32p. And while BT Group’s dividend has been rising quickly over the last few years, the company’s coverage ratio is 2.29, a much less risky figure.

So looking at the three companies, it’s not easy to pick a dividend winner.

Sky and BT Group are both yielding over 3% with sensible coverage ratios, while ITV’s regular dividend is smaller yet the company seems to be making a habit of rewarding shareholders with special dividends.

And with all three companies increasing their dividends in recent years, you could probably make a case for including all three stocks within a diversified portfolio.  

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Edward Sheldon owns shares in SKY. The Motley Fool UK has recommended Sky. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.