E.W. Scripps Co. remains committed to its interactive media and newspaper divisions despite disappointing first-quarter results, the media company’s top executive told shareholders Thursday.
Scripps has confidence in its Shopzilla and uSwitch Internet search business, despite their slow first-quarter business, said Chief Executive Kenneth Lowe. The company’s first-quarter earnings fell 9 percent.
“We are not the slightest bit deterred by the short-term fluctuations involving online marketplaces,” Lowe said at the company’s annual meeting. “Our energies are focused on positioning our Internet search businesses to derive the maximum benefit from larger industry trends.”
Scripps hopes to use its interactive media division to capitalize on the anticipated growth in online commerce over the next five years, but “the path may be a bit lumpy along the way,” Lowe said.
Shareholder Alfred Andersson, 65, of Middlebury, Vt., said he is concerned about Shopzilla and uSwitch.
“I do worry that they may end up like Shop At Home,” said Andersson, referring to the money-losing television and online retailing subsidiary that Scripps closed last year. “I’ve tried the Shopzilla site myself and didn’t find it very exciting, and I don’t see how they could run uSwitch effectively in the U.S. since we can’t switch among multiple power suppliers.”
The United Kingdom-based uSwitch helps consumers compare and switch services such as gas and electricity. Scripps has said it hopes to eventually launch uSwitch in the United States, where it likely would be geared to services such as personal finance.
On Thursday, Lowe also reaffirmed Scripps’ commitment to its newspaper division, where total newspaper revenue — excluding papers contributed in 2006 to a partnership in Colorado — declined 7.8 percent. Total newspaper segment profit was $31.6 million compared with $49.9 million in the first quarter of 2006, with the profit decline primarily due to lower advertising sales, Scripps said.
Most Scripps newspapers began offering buyouts to eligible employees in the first quarter; the company said it should know how many offers have been accepted by late May.
Shareholders representing labor unions negotiating contracts at two of Scripps’ Tennessee newspapers — The Commercial Appeal in Memphis and The Knoxville News Sentinel — appealed at the meeting for shareholder support to get negotiations moving. About 15 union members handed out leaflets outside the meeting.
“All we are asking for is a fair and honest contract at fair and honest wages,” said Marilyn Kennedy, a Commercial Appeal employee and a vice president with the Memphis Newspaper Guild.
Editorial employees at the Knoxville paper have been seeking agreement on a new contract since 2005, and employees in several areas of the Memphis paper have been seeking a new contract since 2003.
Scripps’ policy is to let individual newspapers handle their own contract negotiations, the company said.
Shares in Scripps closed Thursday at $43.28, down 22 cents, on the New York Stock Exchange.
Scripps’ interests include national cable networks HGTV, Food Network, DIY Network, Fine Living and Great American Country; daily and community newspapers in 18 markets; and the United Media licensing and syndication company.