In the company’s quarterly Q&A session with Wall Street analysts, Local Media Group President Patrick McCreery noted sequential month-over-month improvement throughout the pandemic. April TV ad revenues fell 49%, May was down 43% and June improved to a decline of 28%. Moving into the current quarter, July was down 25%.
In its second quarter earnings call with analysts, CEO Dave Lougee said that looking forward, the company will “benefit from a large number of unusual events that we would not normally see in the back half of the year that are rescheduled from the second quarter.”
Each month of the second quarter was sequentially better, so Local Media President Brian Lawler is optimistic: “We do believe, based on everything we’re seeing now, that August will be better than July, and September will be better than August in terms of year-to-year improvement, in terms of dollar growth,” he said.
“Their job was to focus on their responsibilities, their journalism, our communities and our clients — and it has paid off,” said Hilton Howell, Gray Television chairman-CEO, adding: “Our [second quarter] business slowed less than we feared and it recovered faster than we’d hoped.”
“The [second] quarter turned out better than we thought early. That was because we did see sequential improvement in each month of the quarter,” said President-CEO Bob Bakish in his conference call with Wall Street analysts Thursday morning.
The broadcast group tells analysts it expects third quarter broadcasting revenues to be up 6%-10% pro forma to $777 million-$805 million.
The company saw sequential month-over-month core advertising improvement from April to May, May to June — “and this trend is continuing in July,” according to CEO Perry Sook.
Improved operating income results for broadcasting and cable couldn’t offset the pandemic’s impact on theme parks, resorts and cruise ships.
Political is pacing more than 50% ahead of the equivalent period four years ago CEO Lachlan Murdoch tells analysts. Apart from political, COO John Nallen said it is “remarkable to see how quickly local advertising is coming back.”
“While the advertising market was hit hard, it is coming back more rapidly than we anticipated and the upfront is now in full-swing,” said Jeff Shell, CEO, NBCUniversal, in Comcast’s second quarter conference call today with Wall Street analysts.
EVP-CFO Lisa Knutson said ad pacings are improving sequentially month-over-month, with May pacing ahead of April and June pacing ahead of May. Brian Lawlor, president of local media, added that it is unusual for June to grow over May if advertising were normal.
“We are seeing improvement week-to-week,” CEO Dave Lougee said of ad sales trends. He declined to give a number, but said it is not as bad as the 50% drop in local mentioned in the Fox Corp. conference call.
While 2Q advertising is taking a hit, President-CEO Bob Bakish sees the third and fourth quarters improving. Starting June 11, CBS will resume live sports broadcasting as the PGA returns.
After reporting local advertising down 6% in the first quarter, with the COVID plunge hitting in March, Gray is not offering formal guidance for the current quarter. However, CFO Jim Ryan told analysts that as states begin to lift restrictions, business should improve.
CEO Lachlan Murdoch says that while some categories are down, others are pacing up — “so it’s a real mix.” Murdoch also noted that the local markets won’t recover at the same rate — it will be state-by-state based on how businesses reopen. “But we are beginning to see positive signs in the pacings going forward,” he said.
Analysts are assured that small- and medium-size businesses will return to television advertising as the economy reopens. Meanwhile, Sinclair’s sales reps are using this pause to demonstrate what services those businesses may be able to use to aid in reopening. In addition, auto dealers will now need to move their 2020 model inventory off their lots.
As states begin opening up, Nexstar CEO Perry Sook projects that the company will be profitable in every quarter of this year with a rebounding auto category and expected political spending among the reasons.
In Comcast’s analysts call Thursday, Chairman-CEO Brian Roberts said: “We absolutely believe that sports will come back. And when they do, there’s bound to be so much excitement and enthusiasm, which may resonate even more than before, regardless as to whether or not stadiums are filled with fans.” Broadcast TV (NBC, Telemundo, content licensing and the O&O stations) saw revenues increase in the first quarter by 8.8% to $2.68 billion. Higher retransmission consent payments were a big contributor to a 6.9% gain in “distribution and other revenue.”
“What’s old is new again, and broadcast linear television is seen by younger audiences as the perfect pairing for subscription services and virtual MVPDs. They’re plugging in digital antennas and tuning in to free, over-the-air television,” Scripps CEO Adam Symson told analysts this morning. “The combination of our local television portfolio and our five Katz networks uniquely positions Scripps to take advantage of the over-the-air renaissance in the media marketplace.”
“We are bullish about political advertising revenue prospects for 2020 and are off to a fine start this year,” Hilton Howell told analysts today. Gray is increasing its political guidance for 2020 to $250 million-$275 million, well ahead of the company’s record of $235 million in 2018. It also reported sequential improvement in auto advertising for 4Q and strength in the legal, medical and financial ad categories.
CEO Chris Ripley tells analysts: “Sports betting we think will have large new revenue pools associated with them. We think ultimately they will be bigger than advertising — not as big as subscriptions — but it also helps viewership, which helps advertising and viewership, which helps you with your MVPD negotiations.”
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.
ViacomCBS CFO Christina Spade says strong 4Q retrans/reverse comp will continue as growth drivers this year, along with political advertising. And President-CEO Bob Bakish was extremely bullish on streaming opportunities.
CEO Dave Lougee tells analysts that the company’s advertising categories pacing up this year include auto, media & telecom, travel & tourism, medical & dental, banking & finance and auto after-market.
Disney’s legacy ABC businesses were down for the quarter, although the company didn’t offer specific details. A bright spot was an increase in affiliate revenue (retrans for the O&O stations and the ABC Network’s share of what affiliates received), which was attributed to higher rates. But the broadcasting segment had lower advertising revenues for the quarter, with ad sales down for the O&Os and a drop in average network viewership.
CBS Corp. CEO Joe Ianniello told analysts this morning that in the third quarter, growth was driven by an 18% increase in subscriber fees: retrans, reverse comp and virtual MVPDs. Station revenues decreased 6% to $406 million, attributed to the lack of political advertising compared to a year earlier and the impact of the AT&T blackout.
After the company reported third quarter results at the high end of its guidance to Wall Street today, the stock price opened at $18.15 and stayed above $18 for most of the day’s trading. Political advertising has outpaced expectations for Gray every quarter this year, despite the lack of a national election.
“We’re doing better in our larger markets, with local being specifically strong,” Tegna CEO Dave Lougee told analysts today, with good performances from insurance, media and telecom, medical, dental and services categories.
Retrans powers the group’s 3Q, passing ad dollars. While auto is still down, pharmaceuticals, attorneys and insurance are the driving ad categories.
“The category that is phenomenal in its growth — and it continues to be unabated — is the legal category,” the group’s CEO, Perry Sook, told analysts today. He noted that legal is already the top category reported by another group owner in at least two markets, surpassing auto. “We’re not there yet, and there’s a long way to go for us to get there, but legal is now our No. 2 category, supplanting fast food, furniture and some of the other perennially strong categories. They’re strong, it’s just that the growth curve on legal advertising continues unabated,” Sook said.
But the outlook of non-political national spot remains gloomy. C0-CEO Pat LaPlatney said the company remains “disappointed with the weakness in national ad revenue, especially the auto sector.”
Wall Street may be getting a different report from other broadcasters, but Sinclair’s auto ad sales have been growing, as are the retail and goods and services categories. “Core advertising for us has been consistent. It hasn’t been robust, but it’s been consistent and it’s been positive,” COO Steve Marks told analysts.
“It’s a goldilocks world,” Nexstar CEO Perry Sook said of core, which excludes political advertising. “It’s not too hot, it’s not too cold, it’s kind of plugging along.” And, he added, he sees no reason why the company’s double-digit annual retrans and net retrans growth should not continue for at least the next three years. “We see no change to the outlook or the ecosystem,”
CEO Dave Lougee said dropping Cox Reps to go in-house will increase automation of national spot sales and reduce the number of points of contact that the agencies have to deal with. “The response from the agencies to what we have announced has been tremendous,” he said. And he told analysts that retransmission consent revenues should account for about half of total revenues beginning in the 2020 cycle and continue to grow thereafter.
For right now, the company says it’s focused on integrating all its recently-acquired stations. But, said CEO Adam Symson, “it won’t be long before we’re positioned again to pursue accretive M&A.”
The revenue growth was “driven primarily by” subscription revenue growing 18% to $242 million that CEO Dave Lougee said was a “first quarter record,” along with growth in Tegna’s sales, digital and content operations.
Coming off a first quarter in which core was down, the station group will grow core this year, Sinclair COO Steve Marks told analysts following release of the 1Q results. That promise is based on what the stations are seeing in the auto subcategories of domestic dealers, domestic manufacturers and foreign dealers.“So, the three biggest categories we have are propelling our efforts right now and that gives us a reason to believe that we’re turning the corner,” Marks said.
Retrans was the chief contributor to the station group’s top line in the first quarter, accounting for just over half the company’s total $626.6 milllion in revenue. That reflects continued strong retrans growth, up 13.8% in the quarter. Spot and digital, both down the in quarter, account for 40.4% and 8.4% of total revenue, respectively.
After reporting first quarter revenue of $518 million that included $280 million from Raycom, the company is still eyeing potential future acquisitions.
“We like our chances on political dollars,” said Sinclair EVP Steven Marks on the group’s fourth-quarter call with analysts today. “You just look what goes on every day. [Watching politics has] become the best TV show on the planet.”