Media General 4Q Profit Up 27% on Higher Broadcast Revenue

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Media General Inc., which publishes the Richmond Times-Dispatch, The Tampa Tribune and Winston-Salem Journal and owns TV stations, said Wednesday its fourth-quarter earnings rose nearly 27%, largely boosted by revenue from its broadcast holdings.

Net income for the quarter ended Dec. 31 rose to $31.6 million, or $1.33 per share, compared with $25 million, or $1.05 per share, in the year-ago period.

Total sales rose 26 percent to $294.7 million, including $18.5 million from the four NBC television stations acquired in late June. Excluding the new stations, sales rose 10.7%. There was also an additional week in the 2006 quarter.

Analysts expected, on average, earnings of $1.29 per share on revenue of $297 million, according to Thomson Financial.

“Media General’s strong profit improvement in the fourth quarter was mostly due to the outstanding performance of our broadcast division, bolstered by the four new NBC stations, and record political revenues,” chief executive Marshall N. Morton said in a statement.

The Richmond-based company’s publishing unit reported a 10.4% drop in profit for the quarter. Overall publishing revenue was up 3.4%, including a 3.8% increase in newspaper ad revenues. Excluding the extra week in 2006, total publishing revenue fell 3.4% and ad revenue fell 3%.

Circulation sales were up nominally, with seven newspapers posting increases in daily circulation and eight newspapers seeing increased Sunday circulation, Media General said.

The broadcast unit’s profit for the quarter more than doubled to $46.1 million, including the new stations. Excluding those stations, broadcast profit rose nearly 50 percent.

Political broadcast ad sales totaled a record $34.3 million, up from $375,000 in the 2005 period. The increase stemmed largely from tight gubernatorial races in Rhode Island, Florida and Ohio, and U.S. Senate races in Rhode Island, Florida, Ohio and Tennessee.

Media General’s smaller interactive-media division continues to struggle to break even, posting a $1.8 million fourth-quarter loss. The division had $7.1 million in revenue, a 24% increase driven by strong local and regional online ad sales.

For the year, the company reported net income of $79 million, or $3.32 a share, compared to a loss of $243 million, or $10.18 a share, in 2005. Sales rose to $983.2 million from $876.4 million in 2005.

Media General expects first-quarter sales to remain flat or slightly higher, reflecting continued retail ad growth and softer classified and national ad sales. The broadcast division expects ad time sales to be even or slightly higher, with local time sales offsetting a drop in national time sales and the absence of political ad sales.

Besides its three metropolitan newspapers, Media General owns 22 daily community newspapers in the Southeast, more than 150 weekly newspapers and other publications and 23 network-affiliated stations.

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