Revenues and profits fell in Q4 for Media General. Newspaper ad sales were down across the board, but there was some better news for the television group. Total TV revenues declined 15.5% to $77.9 million, but were up 9% excluding political.
Local ad revenues gained 4.7% for the TV group to $48.1 million and national gained 1% to $24.8 million. Political, of course, plunged, dropping to $3.6 million from $23.9 million a year earlier.
“Media General’s fourth-quarter results reflected several positive trends. Automotive advertising at our Broadcast television stations increased 14% from the prior year. Excluding Political revenues, total Broadcast revenues increased nearly 9%,” said CEO Marshall Morton ahead of his conference call with Wall Street analysts. “In addition, the decline in Print revenues moderated to 6.6%, compared with a 9.1% decrease in the third quarter of 2011. Fourth-quarter Print revenues included strong preprint advertising volume in several markets and solid retail advertising related to the holidays.”
Newspaper revenues fell 6.6% to $80.8 million, with all ad segments falling. Local advertising was down 6%, national 27.9% and classified 15.6%.
Digital media also had a down quarter, with revenues falling 19.1% to $9.1 million. Local was up 14.9%, but National fell 32.2% and classified was down 2.2%.
Broadcast cash flow (including political) declined 18.9% to $32.7%. For the other platforms, cash flow fell 7.9% for print to $13.4 million and digital flipped to a negative $636K from positive CF of $440K a year earlier.
Media General reported operating income of $27.7 million for Q4, compared to $36.7 million in Q4 of 2010. The company’s net loss was $3.3 million, or 15 cents per share, including severance expense and an impairment write-down related to DealTaker.com. The company had posted net income of $9.3 million a year earlier.
What about the future?
“As we start the new year, we have generated strong Political revenues from the Republican primaries in South Carolina and Florida, and other campaign and issues spending is starting to ramp up. We have booked strong advance sales for the Super Bowl on our eight NBC stations. As this major election year unfolds, we expect to generate at-or-above-market shares of Political revenues at our highly ranked television stations. Our NBC stations also will benefit from Summer Olympics advertising,” Morton said.
“We have put in place a number of strategic building blocks to increase cash flow generation in 2012, including a major restructuring of The Tampa Tribune. In December, we implemented a reduction in the workforce of 165 positions at The Tampa Tribune and its related print properties. We also implemented a number of other cost-saving actions. These actions will significantly improve cash flow in our Florida market this year,” said the CEO.
“For 2012 overall, we expect a continued decline in total Print revenues, although we are not prepared at this early stage to forecast by how much, due to limited visibility. We are making strong progress accelerating our digital strategy, and we are pleased with our paid-content initiatives. Our Internet partnerships are strong and growing,” said Morton.
RBR-TVBR observation: Where is the bottom for the newspaper business? If we could figure that out we could probably make a lot of money. But about all we can say is that the string of down quarters for the US newspaper industry certainly extended to 22 in a row in Q4 and we’d be willing to bet it will be 26 when 2012 is tallied.