Media General: Cuts Costs, Exempts Digital

Due to a weakening ad market, Media General said it will continue to cut costs at its 23 local stations and hold off on capital expenditures until "later in the year."

Not included are expenses related to "digital TV or critical to on-air operations," the company said.

Furthermore, it said it expects to report a first-quarter loss due mostly to trouble in the Tampa, Florida market, where it operates the Tampa Tribune newspaper and the NBC affiliate.

"Despite aggressive programs that are reducing expenses across the company, the recession in Tampa is so deep that we will not be able to fully offset the revenue shortfalls we are experiencing there," said President-CEO Marshall Morton.

The announcements came as Media General released February results showing that both local (down 4%) and national (down 17%) spot sales fell at its TV stations, compared to a year ago. The auto and telecommunications categories were down across the board, the company said--as total broadcast revenues dropped 4% to $25 million.



Overall, company revenues declined in February by 12% to $63 million, attributed largely to lower classified dollars in the Tampa market. Publishing revenue in Florida was down 31%; company-wide it fell to $36.5 million from $43.1 million a year ago. Media General is the latest media company to cite the troubled Florida real estate market as having a significant negative impact on performance.

Media General, which purchased four of NBC Universal's owned-and-operated stations two years ago to give it reach outside the South, is divesting five stations.

One bright spot: the company said it benefited in February from $1 million in political dollars generated partly from presidential campaign spending at its Columbus, Ohio, and Providence, R.I. stations--two of the four it purchased from NBCU for a combined $600 million).

Media General operates daily papers in Richmond, Va. and Winston-Salem, N.C., along with Tampa.

Looking to jump-start growth in publishing, the company said it is "consolidating several circulation operations and executing a number of initiatives to further reduce newsprint consumption." It will also launch its female-targeted free monthly publication skirt! (which debuted in Richmond last fall) in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Fla. and Birmingham in April, and Winston-Salem in the summer.

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