Unfortunately, that was a double digit percentage decline in revenues for both the publishing and television operations, while digital media was up double digits. But the company actually posted net income of $27.4 million for Q4 and CEO Marshall Morton pointed to sequential improvement.
“Media General’s fourth-quarter results improved year-over-year and sequentially from the third quarter of 2009. Total revenues in the fourth quarter decreased 14 percent, a sequential improvement from an 18 percent decrease in the third quarter of 2009. In addition, the 2009 quarter included only $3.7 million of Political revenues, compared with $23.4 million in the 2008 fourth quarter. Advertising sales strengthened as the quarter unfolded. In the month of December, total revenues were essentially even with December 2008,” said Morton in announcing the results.
Broadcasting revenues declined 17% in Q4 to $71.6 million, which the company said was entirely due to the lack of political advertising.
Publishing revenues were off 14% to $94.4 million, with higher circulation, printing and distribution revenues partially offsetting declines in all advertising segments: local, national and classified.
Digital Media revenues rose 11% to $11.1 million, a growing but still small portion of the company.
Under its new regional market organization, there were clearly differences in performance at Media General “market segments.” The long-suffering Florida segment swung to a profit of $6.6 million from a loss of nearly $1 million a year earlier. WFLA-TV Tampa, in particular, was cited for growing both local and national advertising in Q4. Virginia/Tennessee saw profits grow 67.2% to $15.6 million. Mid-South profits rose 14.5% to $8.7 million.
Two regions saw profits decline. North Carolina profits decreased 26.6% to $3.4 million. Ohio/Rhode Island (an all-TV segment) posted a decrease in profits of 23.7% to $5.3 million.
Prior to his conference call with Wall Street analysts, Morton offered this comment on the outlook for Media General: “Media General will continue to build on the strength of its reorganized market-based structure, which is enabling us to accelerate our digital strategy, engage more employees in innovation, and get to market faster with customer-focused solutions. Our lower cost base going into 2010 provides us with significant flexibility. In 2010, we will benefit from an improving economy, revenues from the Winter Olympics on our eight NBC stations, and Political revenues, which we estimate will be approximately $42 million across all our markets for the year. For the full year, we expect our total revenues to increase in the mid-single digits. Total operating expenses are expected to increase in the mid-single digits, in part because we are not planning a furlough program in 2010. Our current budget estimates free cash flow of approximately $48-50 million for the year,” the CEO said.