President-CEO Colleen Brown tells analysts “we monitor how much of our spectrum we are using, and we are completely full-up. So … economically, I can’t see that there is a way — we’ve run this many different ways — to participate.”
Wall Street analysts appear to have a lot more interest in the FCC’s spectrum auction plans than do publicly traded broadcast companies. Analyst Barry Lucas of Gabelli & Co., whose funds hold lots of Fisher Communications stock, raised the issue in the company’s Thursday conference call, but found President-CEO Colleen Brown cool to the auction idea.
First off, Brown noted the complexity of the auction process, with a reverse auction and then a forward auction. And for Fisher’s markets, mostly in the Northwest, there’s the added issue of spectrum allocation treaties with Canada.
“In addition, we monitor how much of our spectrum we are using, and we are completely full-up with all of our spectrum. And we certainly monitor how much income we make off of the various uses of the spectrum. So, as far as Fisher goes, right now, economically, I can’t see that there is a way — we’ve run this many different ways — to participate. But obviously as time goes by and this becomes something that is more concrete we’ll continue to run the numbers and evaluate it and determine if there’s anything there for us,” Brown said.
Fisher has been cash-heavy of late, following the sale of Fisher Plaza, which made the company a pure play broadcaster. Fisher ended the third quarter with $103 million in cash on hand and then paid out $89 million to shareholders in October in the form of a $10 per share special dividend.
Management at Fisher doesn’t give any forward guidance to Wall Street, so here was no indication of how 4Q looks. The company reported an up 3Q despite not having stations in any presidential battleground states and not having any NBC affiliates to benefit from the Olympics. Brown said that Fisher’s stations “did what we expected” selling against the Olympics.
TV net revenue was up 14% to $34.7 million. Excluding political, TV revenues were up 5%, mostly due to increased retransmission consent fees.
Despite the lack of presidential contest advertising, Fisher was not left out completely. Political advertising totaled $3.6 million, up 285% from a year ago.
Core non-political ad revenues were down 4%, which SVP-CFO Hassan Natha blamed on crowding out from political and weakness in national advertising.
Internet revenues were down 13% to $1.2 million. While core revenues were up 19% at Fisher Interactive, sales were down for the company’s hyper-local sites.
“As we retool our hyper-local efforts we are well positioned at Fisher to grow Internet revenues,” said Brown. Under questioning from an analyst she said the hyper-local sites cost little and the operation remains cash flow positive.
Brown bragged that Fisher had signed its first multi-million-dollar contract for cross-platform across all of its Seattle properties, where the company has TV, radio and Internet. And she was bullish on digital multicasting, noting the recent launch of MundoFox in Seattle and Portland and Fox in Idaho Falls.