TV strong at Scripps as newspapers drag


Like other multi-media companies the E.W. Scripps Company reported big Q4 revenue gains for its TV station group, while the only good news on the newspaper side was that the rate of revenue decline improved.

“A rebound in most TV advertising categories, accentuated by an exceptionally strong political advertising season, resulted in a strong end of the year for the company,” said CEO Rich Boehne. “Newspaper ad revenues were still below the prior year, but the year-over-year decline continued to shrink compared with prior quarters.”

TV revenues shot up 37% in Q4 to $101 million. Political, of course, was a big factor, up nearly 10 times to $28.1 million from only $2.9 million in off-year 2009. Even so, core business also increased. Local gained 1.2% to $43.3 million and national was up 5.1% to $23.4 million. Auto was up 31%.

Retransmission consent fees are growing, but Scripps is also having to pay reverse comp to its networks. Retrans revenues were up 18% to $3 million in the quarter. During Q4 Scripps signed a new five-year affiliation agreement for its six ABC affiliates and has more recently agreed to a five-year extension for its three NBC stations. (The company also owns one independent.) “The new ABC and NBC agreements discontinue the payment of affiliation fees from the networks to the television stations. Instead, Scripps will pay a licensing fee for the networks’ programming.  As a result, network compensation in fourth quarter was less than $100,000, compared with $1.5 million in the fourth quarter of 2009,” the company said in its Q4 financial release.

Segment profit for TV more than doubled in Q4 to $37.3 million from $14.7 million a year earlier.

Over on the newspaper side, Q4 revenues declined 2.7% to $114 million, with ad revenues down 5.3% to $79 million. Local was down 6.5%, national 9.9% and classified 4%.

The newspaper business was, however profitable. The segment profit for Q4 was $14.7 million, down 26.5% from $20 million a year earlier.

Looking ahead, CFO Tim Stautberg is sticking with the Q1 guidance the company issued in December. “On the top line we expect TV ad revenues to increase at a low single digit rate, taking into account the absence of $3 million in Olympics advertising at our NBC stations last February and nearly a million dollars in political advertising. Newspaper ad revenues are expected to decline at rates similar to those recorded in the fourth quarter,” he told analysts on the quarterly conference call.