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Gannett's TV Unit Boasts Big Gains

With an extra boost from political advertising, Gannett's television division posted strong financial gains during the fourth quarter of 2002. But the unit did not make up all the ground lost to the recession and to 2001's post-9/11 ad crunch.

For the three months ended December, sales at Gannett's TV stations jumped 27% to $228.8 million, while cash flow zoomed 41% to $128.7 million.

But that's because Gannett and other broadcasters face easy comps. The fourth quarter of 2001 was horrible, as advertisers fled after the terrorist attacks. Also, Gannett stations enjoyed $50 million worth of spending from local and state political candidates during the quarter.

Gannett doesn't look as good in comparison with its performance in 2000. For 2002, Gannett's TV sales were actually down 2% from $233.2 million generated in 2000. And cash flow was down 2.5% from $131.8 million.

The comparisons for the first quarter of 2003 won't be as easy. Last year, Gannett's NBC affiliates benefited from the strong ratings of the Winter Olympics, adding $20 million to $25 million to sales totals.

But CEO Doug McCorkindale said that March ad pacings (which are notoriously volatile) are showing particularly promising percentage gains. "January is up in the high single digits, February is down in the midteens against the Winter Olympic comparisons from last year, and March is up in the high teens at this point."