Tribune TV Business Hurt by Drop in Political Ads

Tribune Media’s TV business generated lower profits in the fourth quarter, but the company’s net income was up because of the new tax law and real estate sales.

Sinclair Broadcast Group expects to acquire Tribune Media in the second quarter.

Tribune’s fourth quarter net income was $328.8 million, or $3.76 a share, compared to $19 million, 22 cents a year, a year ago. The results include a $256 million benefit due to the change in the corporate tax law. The also include the proceeds of real estate sales.

Revenue was down 8% to $489 million. Excluding political advertising and real estate revenue, revenue was up 6%, the company said.

Net advertising revenue at Tribunes Television and Entertainment unit decreased 15% to $326.2 million in the quarter. Core advertising revenue (excluding political and digital ad revenues) were up 3% to $297.4 million.

Retransmission revenue was up 22% to $108.5 million in the quarter.

Carriage fees for WGNA rose 3% to $31.5 million.

Total revenue for Television and Entertainment was down 8% to $486 million.

Operating profit for Television and Entertainment was down 7% to $127.2 million. Programming expenses in 2017 included an $80 million impairment charge for the syndicated programs Elementary and Person of Interest at WGN America.

“2017 was a transformational year for Tribune Media, in which we focused aggressively on streamlining our cost structure, selling non-core assets, returning capital to our stockholders, and most importantly, on the completion of our previously announced merger with Sinclair,” said Tribune Media CEO Peter Kern.

“Looking ahead to 2018, while we are keenly focused on the completion of our pending merger, we also see growth opportunities in the core business, with the shift in our programming strategy at WGN America expected to turn that business into a significant EBITDA contributor, and the highly contested midterm elections expected to drive a resurgence of political advertising revenue across our diverse footprint of stations,” Kern said. “In addition, we expect to realize significant tax savings from the recent changes in the tax code on both our core business operations as well as on any potential gains from continued asset sales.”

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.