Up quarter for Fisher, but shareholder discontent


Q1 revenues were up 10% to $37.7 million at Fisher Communications. And while a good bit of that was due to buying two more TV stations, TV revenues were still up 2.5% excluding the newbies. Radio, however, was down 6%. Fisher conducted its annual shareholders meeting yesterday in addition to reporting its Q1 results and some major investors made it clear they are not pleased with how the company is being run.

Even after the company pared back its equity incentive share plan to satisfy some large investors, the proposal barely won shareholder approval, about 52% to 48%. Also, more than a third of the votes cast were withheld from the three board members up for re-election.

A representative of GAMCO, the investment funds managed by Mario Gabelli, said his firm voted its sizeable stake against the incumbent directors. He was also displeased that the company had disqualified from a shareholder vote a GAMCO proposal which would have required shareholder approval for any acquisition by Fisher over $25 million. He criticized the company for overpaying for acquisitions, apparently referring to the recent $55 million purchase of two TV stations in Bakersfield, CA.

Although few shareholders actually attended the meeting in Seattle personally, the questions raised by those in attendance sought answers from Chairman Phelps Fisher and President & CEO Colleen Brown on when they would deliver on efforts to boost the cash flow margin for the company’s TV group and when the company’s stock price would improve. One shareholder suggested that trying to sell the whole company might be an option worth looking into, but Brown said that would not be advisable in the current soft market.

Fisher is about to receive about $150 million in cash from its stake in Safeco, since the insurance company is being bought out. Brown said that development is so recent that the subject of what to do with that money will be taken up at the next board meeting.