Hearst-Argyle 3Q Rev Flat, Political Ads Helped

An "unquestionably" rocky economic climate contributed to flat revenues in the third quarter at station group Hearst-Argyle--but CEO David Barrett offered a stroke of optimism, saying "everything is temporary."

H-A executives said on a conference call to discuss third-quarter results Thursday that the company was hurt considerably by the downturn in New England, Florida and California.

Florida and California have been particularly affected by the mortgage crisis. H-A indicated that its duopolies in Orlando (NBC-CW) and Sacramento (NBC-MyNetworkTV) have been impacted. It also has the ABC affiliate in Boston.

Total third-quarter revenue came in at $176.2 million, about equal to a year ago. Stripping out a bump from political dollars, ad sales were down 11.5% to $129.5 million. The auto category, the company's largest, was down about 20%.

The ad economy was so difficult to navigate that H-A's digital revenues were down 6%. Station groups have been operating from a low base on digital revenues as they look to build up that revenue stream, but growth rates have generally been strong.



Nonetheless, Barrett said: "In the good times, we have to remind ourselves that things are temporary and in bad times as well. There will be a recovery."

H-A did benefit from ad spending by the presidential candidates in potential swing states New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio and Pennsylvania. H-A operates 29 stations from coast to coast, including 13 affiliated with ABC and 10 with NBC.

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