EARNINGS CALL

Core Advertising Grows For Nexstar

CEO Perry Sook reports 4Q growth in 16 of the station group’s 25 major ad categories that are regularly tracked. That translated to a 1.3% increase in same-station core advertising.

With record election-year political spending seen on the horizon, Nexstar Media Group reports growth in core non-political advertising as Chairman-President-CEO Perry Sook told Wall Street analysts today that fourth quarter results exceeded expectations.

He noted growth in 16 of the 25 major ad categories that are regularly tracked. That translated to a 1.3% increase in same-station core advertising.

“Auto was down the lowest of single digits in the fourth quarter, which was its best performance on a relative basis in two years. And I would say that first quarter trends are about the same in terms of auto spending on the television stations,” said Sook when asked about TV’s traditional giant ad category.

“Retail, I would say, in the fourth quarter, was below our expectations,” said the CEO. But he noted that insurance and attorneys were both up double-digits. “The financial category, banking, was a pleasant surprise, as well as the service area,” Sook told analysts. He also cited strength in home repair, entertainment, lottery spending, grocery stores and drug stores — with pharmaceuticals one of the quarter’s biggest growth categories. Also, travel, home electronics, appliances, HVAC and utilities were up in the quarter.

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Meanwhile, political posted an odd-year record of $36 million for 4Q, with growth in the low teens projected for the current quarter. Sook said Nexstar hit its 1Q political budget Tuesday, with more than a month remaining. Questioned by an analyst, Sook confirmed that the Michael Bloomberg campaign spending constituted a “goodly portion” of that haul, but he also said Bloomberg’s heavy spending was keeping some PACs on the sidelines for now.

When 2020 is all in the books, Nexstar is expecting same-station political advertising to be up high single digits from 2018. CFO Tom Carter cautioned analysts that while core advertising is expected to grow through the first half of the year, the influx of political advertising claiming inventory will stop core growth in the second half.

BRAND CONNECTIONS

Nexstar has emphasized efforts to bring new advertisers to television with both over-the-air and digital offerings. In 4Q Sook said that resulted in $17.5 million in new-to-television business. And with Nexstar’s sales compensation structure now extending to the newly-acquired Tribune stations, that new business figure is expected to grow still more.

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Having just heard Sinclair Broadcast Group executives hail sports betting as a major new growth category, largely because of its portfolio of regional sports networks, one analyst wanted to know what sports betting would mean for Nexstar’s ad sales. Sook said the category will grow organically, but is dependent on individual states legalizing sports betting.

“We don’t see it as a huge category contributor,” Sook advised, noting that the Philadelphia market now has legal sports betting in all three states — Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey. “Our revenue is in the tens of thousands of dollars, not the hundreds or millions. I think, if anything, it will increase engagement in the actual broadcast. If you’ve got skin in the game, a bet or a prop bet, I think it will probably — whether it’s a golf telecast or a football or basketball game — I think there will be more engagement, which might help viewing levels and viewer retention,” Sook said. While he says it will grow over time, “we’re not looking at it as being the next big thing.”

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Prop bet is new nomenclature for many in broadcasting. According to the wagering site The Lines, a “proposition bet” is a bet on a specific player or a specific event, rather than the final score of the game. Some of the more offbeat prop bets on the Super Bowl, for example, can include the length of the National Anthem or the result of the coin toss.

Like other broadcasters who have been reporting financial results, Nexstar reported growth in retrans revenues, even as subscriber numbers slipped. Including new acquisitions, distribution fee revenues were up 56.7% to $445.8 million. On a same-station basis, CFO Carter said growth for the quarter was 12.8%.


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