Summary:

It says a lot about how tough the last year has been when a revenue decline of 11.5 percent is an improvement after a Q3 that was down nearl…

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It says a lot about how tough the last year has been when a revenue decline of 11.5 percent is an improvement after a Q3 that was down nearly 17 percent. The New York Times Co. (NYSE: NYT) turned in better than expected revenue, ad numbers and profit for Q4 — and managed to end 2009 in the black. Much of the upside came from cost cutting to the tune of 16 percent overall.

Perhaps the most positive sign: digital advertising revenue was up nearly 11 percent across the company, aided by a strong performance from the About Group. The company expects Q1 digital advertising to be about the same. The digital ad numbers weren’t as good for the News Media Group, but still an increase of 4.1 percent to $56.1 million compared with a 20 percent drop for print; the total ad decrease was 17.1 percent. Similar to reports from other companies, the rate of decline across national, retail and classified lessened heading into 2010, a sign that the worst may be in the rear view mirror.

Internet revenue now accounts for about 15 percent of the total for NYTCo, up from 12 percent in Q408, and for 13.8 percent of the company’s revenue on 2009. Internet revenue rose 10.3 percent, to $102 million from $92.5 million in Q408; the increase was about the same for internet advertising — 10.6 percent, to $90.6 million from $81.9 million. Reflecting that nasty year, overall internet revenue for 2009 was down 4.1 percent to $337.4 million, while internet ad revenues for the News Media Group ended the year down nearly 11 percent.

[David adds] About Group: The segment that houses guide site About.com, along with other NYTCo online properties ConsumerSearch.com, UCompareHealthCare.com and Calorie-Count.com, experienced a considerable turnaround from Q408. Total About Group revenues grew 21.8 percent to $36.3 million. The unit attributed to both cost-per-click and display revenues. In contrast, the About Group’s revenues fell 2.9 percent in Q408.

Profits were also robust at About, as earnings grew 80.3 percent to $18 million, thanks in part to a reduction in expenses, which declined 7.6 percent to $18.3 million.

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