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Political Ad Gains Power Tribune Media Q1 but Earnings Hit by Programming Costs

Tribune Media’s TV stations were rolling in political advertising dough during the first quarter but higher programming and marketing expenses for the launch of WGN America dramas “Outsiders” and “Underground” put a dent into earnings.

Tribune saw a 10% year-over-year gain in revenue to $520.5 million while net income fell to $11.1 million, from $36.4 million. Tribune said its adjusted operating profit was $27.2 million, down from $60.9 million in the year-ago quarter.

Tribune Media CEO Peter Liguori emphasized that the company had planned for the higher programming costs with the launch of two dramas in the first quarter. The company reaffirmed its guidance for 2016 that includes projections of programming costs being generally flat and marketing costs slightly down compared to 2015.

Liguori also noted that “Outsiders” and “Underground” were both well-received by viewers, with “Outsiders” boosting WGN America’s average primetime audience by a factor of eight (1.5 million viewers in L3 ratings) and “Underground” (1.8 million viewers) drawing nine times the cabler’s typical audience.

Political advertising at Tribune’s 42 stations hit $15.3 million, up 169% from the first quarter of 2012 during the last presidential race. Liguori said the group is on track to rake in about $200 million during the 2016 cycle. He noted that most of the coin will likely come from highly contested Senate and gubernatorial races, as well as PAC and issue-oriented advertising. Tribune is well-positioned with TV stations in 21 of the 34 states holding Senate races.

Big gains in carriage fees for WGNA (up 44% to $31 million) and retransmission consent fees (up 21% to $83.5 million) also buoyed the company.

Tribune Media earlier this year put itself on the block by hiring investment bank Moelis & Co. to shop all or part of the company. The status of that process was not addressed, nor were execs pressed on the matter, during a conference with Wall Street analysts on Tuesday.

(Pictured: “Underground”)

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