Tribune Previews Q1: Expect 'Double-Digit' Print Declines; Online Continues To Remain Positive

This story was written by David Kaplan.
Details of The Tribune Company's Q1 performance won't be released until mid-May, but the media company sought to provide a general view of how it did since going private in December. In the words of Chairman and CEO Sam Zell, revenue trends are significantly worse than expected, primarily due to significant erosion in classified revenues. Zell told investors to expect in double-digit declines in print ad dollars in Q1, adding that the dismal economy may force Tribune to sell off some of its assets, despite his initial goal of keeping the all Tribune units together. The company is currently finalizing the necessary paperwork for Major League Baseball as it seeks to sell the Chicago Cubs.

-- Classified takes a hit: Next, Chandler Bigelow, CFO, recounted 2007's mostly negative results. Both retail and national advertising were down 4 percent, while classified fell 18 percent, due mostly to weakness in housing and employment, especially at its Florida papers. As industry trends go, online represented one of the few bright spots. Online classifieds were up 9 percent last year, compared to print listings, which plummeted 23 percent. Classifieds represented one-third of the publishing dollars and contributed to three quarters of the decline of ad revenue.

-- Online growth continues: Overall, online revenues grew 13 percent, with non-classified banner ads up 33 percent. 2007, Online represented 9 percent of total publishing revenues, up slightly from 7 percent the year before. As for Tribune's collective internet audience, Bigelow claimed monthly uniques averaged 13 million visitors, up 17 percent over 2006. The company expects online, as well as broadcast to weather the storm in Q1, but not enough to offset the staggering losses in print. Webcast


By David Kaplan