TV up, radio down for Fisher


Fisher Communications noted that its TV stations (in 3 locked-down blue states and 1 locked-down red state) got virtually no presidential campaign spending, but other political spending helped boost Q4 TV revenues by 12% – a gain of 3.8% on a same station basis. Meanwhile, radio revenues fell 18.3%.

“The economic slowdown deepened in the fourth quarter, which resulted in further declines in advertising spending, most notably in the key categories of Automotive and Retail. Despite the weakening advertising picture, Fisher was able to increase same-station revenue, in the fourth quarter as well as 2008 as a whole, due to strong political spending and improved market share in a majority of our markets,” said CEO Colleen Brown.

“In this weak economic environment, we will remain focused on improving our operational performance. We will continue to aggressively compete for every advertising dollar and strategically identify new streams of revenue, including retransmission from our distribution partners, our Internet platform and our digital spectrum. We also will maintain a disciplined focus on containing costs, but are mindful of avoiding decisions that will undermine the significant momentum we have achieved in improving our operations over the past several years,” she added.

Q4 revenues rose 7.2% to $47.7 million, which included $14.2 million of gross political revenue and the addition of two TV stations in Bakersfield, acquired January 1, 2008. EBITDA rose 9.2% to $12.4 million. The company’s net loss was $47.7 million, up from $31.4 million a year ago.

TV revenues rose 12% to $37.9 million, including a record $13.8 million of political. Retransmission consent revenue rose 31% to $864,000. On a same station basis, excluding KBAK-TV (CBS) and KBFX-CA (Fox) Bakersfield, TV revenues were up 3.9%. Broadcast cash flow increased 9% to $14.5 million.

Radio revenues declined 18.3% to $6.6 million for the quarter, mainly because revenues dropped 18% for the company’s three Seattle stations. Its only other remaining radio stations comprise a five-station cluster in Great Falls, MT. The radio division posted a loss from operations of $1 million, compared to income from operations of $1.3 million a year earlier.

Full year 2008 revenues rose 7.1% for Fisher to $173.8 million. TV gained 12% to $124 million (up 2.7% same station) and radio dropped 9% to $40.3 million. The radio decline would have been 7% excluding the impact of the Seattle Mariners, whose broadcast rights deal with Fisher ended after the 2008 season. There were some strong growth areas Brown reported that revenues rose 24% for Fisher’s Spanish television stations and that Internet revenues gained 32%.

Brown reported that Fisher has still been unable to come to terms on a retransmission consent agreement with Dish Network, which removed Fisher’s stations from its local-to-local service in December. Brown said Fisher had reached an agreement in principle with Dish’s negotiators, but that Dish top management rejected it. She believes the reason is Fisher’s still-pending lawsuit seeking $1 million from Dish which Fisher claims is owed under its previous deal.

Fisher provided no guidance for 2009, except that Brown said it will be challenging and that the company will still seek to conserve cash and pay down debt. She made a point of thanking employees who had volunteered to take salary reductions.