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Stations get a break

Hearst-Argyle net up 50% despite ABC woes

NEW YORK — Hearst-Argyle Television Inc. announced Friday that, compared with year-earlier results on a same-station basis, first-quarter earnings increased 50% to $6.7 million while revenues rose 7.4% to $87.3 million.

The same basis also produced a 13.5% increase to $33.7 million in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (cash flow).

In strict accounting terms, however, the company narrowed its loss by 33% to $4.1 million, as revenues climbed 388% to $87.3 million.

Hearst-Argyle, the product of a merger last August, deemed the results “favorable,” especially in light of the “somewhat difficult environment for ABC-affiliated stations.”

Niraj A. Gupta, media and entertainment analyst at Schroder & Co., agreed with that assessment, calling the quarter “terrific for a non-CBS operator.”

Considered to be the only pure TV-station play, the fourth-ranked non-network-owned station group, which covers 11.5% of U.S. TV households, is currently affiliated with ABC at nine of its 12 properties.

The TV station group acknowledged that ABC is “still working to recapture ratings momentum” and conceded tough competition with CBS’ Olympic broadcast. Nonetheless, chief operating officer David J. Barrett reported that Hearst-Argyle’s “major-market ABC stations continued to outperform the network average.”

As for the current quarter, chairman Bob Marbut predicted the imminent completion of previously announced station swaps, which will add two more NBC affiliates to the two Hearst-Argyle already owns, while president John G. Conomikes said second-quarter ad sales are advancing between 4% and 5%.

Conomikes added that the ad pace should quicken in third and fourth quarters, thanks to major political contests in such Hearst-Argyle markets as Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Ohio and Pennsylvania.