Rising retransmission consent fees and political advertising gains powered Tribune Media’s strong fourth-quarter and full-year earnings.
The company said Friday it would declare a special cash dividend of $6.73 per share next month for a total of $650 million, most of which will go to private equity firms that converted the company’s debt to equity after Tribune emerged from bankruptcy. Tribune also said it expects to a pay a regular quarterly dividend of 25 cents per share starting with the second quarter of his year.
For the fourth quarter, Tribune posted net income of $315 million on revenue of $553 million. Retransmission consent payments from MVPDs for Tribune’s 42 TV stations jumped 68% from a year ago to $58.4 million, thanks to improved rates across Tribune’s enlarged station group. Advertising sales at the stations climbed 13% to $381.4 million on the back of political ad gains even as core advertising sales ebbed $7.7 million or 2.4% year-over-year.
Tribune, which returned to trading on the New York Stock Exchange earlier this year, offered better-than-expected financial guidance for 2015. The company projects revenue of around $2 billion and earnings in the $480 million-$495 million range. The earnings picture for the slimmed-down Tribune Media looks better since the company’s separation from its publishing assets, a spinoff completed in August.
The company said it expects to spend about $130 million this year on programming costs for WGN America and its inhouse Tribune Studios arm, which is co-producing several new WGNA series as well as syndicated series for the stations.
“Our strong financial and operational results in the fourth quarter and full-year 2014 demonstrate the strength of our strategy to develop Tribune Media into a diverse modern media company,” said Tribune Media prexy-CEO Peter Liguori.