Tribune holds the line on expenses


There were lots of special items in the Q4 and 2007 financial results issued by Tribune Company, due to the buyout of public shareholders by an Employee Stock Ownership Plan and an investment by new CEO Sam Zell. So, if you want all the nitty gritty accounting details, read the release on the company’s website. We’re going to focus on what was reported about broadcast operations.

Without political advertising, Tribune Company reported that Q4 television revenues were down 9% to 297 million, while cash operating expenses remained flat at 206 million. New York revenues were actually up, but most other markets down. Operating cash flow for the TV group declined 24% to 90 million.

The company’s one radio station, WGN-AM Chicago, is lumped in with Entertainment, which includes the Chicago Cubs and the TV syndication business. Radio/Entertainment revenues declined 35% to 19.8 million. That was attributed to fewer Cubs home games in the quarter – in other words, they didn’t get very far in the playoffs. Expenses also declined, dropping 11% to 26.9 million. All in all, Radio/Entertainment operating cash flow was a negative number, 7.1 million, compared to a positive 265K as year earlier.

The data turned out by Tribune for the financial community in the 2007 wrap-up is staggering, so analysts are being given some time to digest it. (Although Tribune no longer has public stock, it still has public bonds, quite a lot of them, in fact.) Sam Zell and his team are going to conduct a Wall Street conference call in April. Meanwhile, he had this to say about the company: "Despite the continued difficult operating environment and weakness in print revenue, we see significant opportunity within Tribune Company. In our first 75 days, we’ve made a series of key leadership changes, have launched a number of programs and projects to drive new revenue, and have initiated a fundamental shift in culture. In addition, we have begun a strategic review of certain Tribune assets to determine whether capital can be more effectively redeployed into our core operations or toward reducing our outstanding leverage."