Eye revs jump 8%, heralding a rosier outlook

The CBS broadcast net saw revenue jump 8% last quarter as one of the nation’s softest advertising markets in decades starts to turn around. The Eye is the last of the major media companies to herald a rosier outlook for the sector as it reported its fourth-quarter and full-year earnings on Thursday.

Scatter prices are up 30%, CBS execs noted during a conference call. “I’ve never seen scatter prices this high,” said chief exec Leslie Moonves.

CBS’ total revenue was about flat for the quarter at $3.5 billion. But the company’s profits for the quarter fell 57% to $59 million due in part to a writedown of broadcast assets.

For the full year 2009, CBS’ revenue eased 7% to $13 billion. And the company swung to a profit of $226 million from an $11.7 billion loss on heavy writedowns the year before.

The entertainment division, which includes the CBS television network, studios and distribution, CBS Interactive and the new CBS Films, saw revenue rise 4% in the fourth quarter to $1.82 billion. Operating income grew 17% to $147 million.

The uptick in ad revenue at the top-rated CBS network was offset in part by a 5% decline in revenue at CBS Interactive.

CBS Films, meanwhile, saw its inaugural release, “Extraordinary Measures,” fizzle at the box office last month. Moonves acknowledged the film “didn’t perform as well as we would have liked.” But he stressed that the risk was limited and the film’s budget was kept in check at $30 million. CBS Films has three more pics on its slate for this year.

The cable networks group saw revenue rise 8% to $374 million on rate increases and subscription growth. Cable profit jumped to $147 million from $97 million.

Showtime ended the year with a 4% gain in subs compared to 2008. College Sports Network added 9.5 million subs to 34.8 million.

At the newly configured local broadcast group, which lumps television and radio stations in together, revenue fell 8% to $680 million. TV station revenue fell 3% to $358 million, but the company noted that nonpolitical ad sales were up 11%.

Radio, which had fallen on hard times even before the current economic slump, has been exceedingly tough to turn around. But execs said things are looking up at last.

“Radio will be showing plus signs in the first quarter,” Moonves said, noting that it will represent the division’s “first real growth” since CBS and Viacom split.

Book publisher Simon & Schuster saw revenue fall 10% to $220 million. Profit dropped 54% to $11.9 million. The company cited soft retail sales and fewer releases versus the year-earlier quarter. Outdoor advertising revenue fell 8% to $484 million. Operating income of $1 million was way down from $35 million the year before.

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