Trib trips in first

Q1 news dents Tribune stock

NEW YORK — Broadcaster-publisher Tribune’s net profits slipped 14% in the first quarter to $121 million, in part because of losses on some equity investments and a sluggish start to the year on the ad front.

Execs said during a conference call that entertainment advertising, particularly in the key Los Angeles market, was squeezed by the dominance at February’s Oscars by “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” which damped the typical wave of post-awards advertising for other pics.

“After a slow start in January, revenues improved month over month during the first quarter,” said Trib chairman-CEO Dennis FitzSimons. He cited solid year-over-year increases on the TV side and strong growth in help-wanted advertising at the newspaper biz as the job picture brightened.

Revenue for the quarter, ended March 31, rose 3% to $1.33 billion.

In broadcasting and entertainment, profit rose 7% to $97 million. Revenue improved 4% to $329 million. In TV alone, quarterly profits rose 9% to $102 million on revenue that climbed 6% to $306 million. Weaker radio/entertainment results reflect the impact of fewer programs in production at Tribune Entertainment.

On Thursday, Tribune shares closed down $2.59, or 5%, to $49.01 as numbers generally fell short of Wall Street expectations.

Execs cited various issues that weighed on the quarter: Lower programming costs were offset by beefed-up morning news operations and station acquisitions in St. Louis and Portland, Ore. Giant retailer Kmart has cut back on advertising in all its markets, especially in New York. Younger-skewing WB stations don’t attract as much political advertising as rival nets — although their share has improved over the past two election cycles and inventory will tighten in the second half of the year. And the WB, despite a strong upfront last year, has been squeezed by the reality trend, seeing lower ratings and scatter prices.

Tribune owns 26 TV stations; an impressive stable of newspapers including the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Hartford (Conn.) Courant and the Baltimore-Sun Times; and a minority stake in Warner Bros.’ WB network.

Publishing profit fell 4% to $190 million and revenue nosed up 3% to $1 billion.

Emmis Q4

Separately, losses at radio-TV group Emmis Communications widened to nearly $24 million in the fourth quarter from $7.4 million a year ago on hefty one-time charges. Execs still praised the company’s perf, noting local radio advertising has revived following an uptick in national ads last year.

The red ink included a $10.4 million loss for discontinued operations and a noncash impairment charge of $12.4 million.

Revenue for the fourth quarter rose 8% to $137 million.

For Emmis’ full fiscal year, operating losses narrowed to $6.7 million from $173 million. Revenue rose 5% to $592 million.

Emmis’ shares fell $1.08, or 4.31%, to close at $24 on the numbers.

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