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Earnings: Trib Q3 Profit Misses Wall Street Forecasts; Online Revenue Soars

Tribune Co. buried its best news — the online numbers — in today’s third quarter earnings results. But anyone looking at buying either part or all of the Chicago-based media company will no doubt give the company’s online operations a close look.
Online was a rare bright spot for Tribune in the third quarter. Revenue jumped 28 percent to $61 million. Otherwise, the company’s businesses plodded along. Net income was $164.3 million, or 65 cents per share, compared with $24 million, or 7 cents per share, a year earlier. Stripped of a $48 million gain, mostly related to the restructuring of two partnerships it inherited from its acquisition of Times Mirror, profit was 43 cents. Revenue fell 3 percent to $1.35 billion. The Thompson First Call estimate was 45 cents per share on revenue of $1.38 billion.
– Publishing revenues dropped 2 percent to $956 million while operating profit fell 17 percent to $141 million. Operating profit decreased 17 percent to $141 million, down from $170 million in 2005 as circulation and national and classified advertising dropped.
– Broadcasting and entertainment’s revenue fell 3 percent to $393 million while operating profit slumped 15 percent to $108 million.
CEO Dennis FitzSimons recently bowed to pressure from the Chandler family and some investors by agreeing to look at a potential sale or breakup. Though several businessmen in Los Angeles have expressed an interest in buying the Los Angeles Times, it’s going to be difficult to find a company willing to swallow the entire company. Just look at what happened with Knight-Ridder.
Regardless, any potential buyer will want to examine Tribune’s online Web properties because of the shift in advertising dollars away from conventional media.
AP: The board’s independent special committee has hired Morgan Stanley as a financial adviser. Last month, the company retained Merrill Lynch and Citigroup to explore strategic alternatives.
Release | Webcast | Financials | Transcript (SeekingAlpha)
Update: From the transcript it looks FitzSimons had plenty to say about the company’s online businesses during the Q3 call, explaining that the desire to increase top-line growth means that it will put more emphasis on interactive and targeted print publications. So far the company has sold or plans to sell about $420 million worth of property including stock in Time Warner and the company’s airplane.
— Tribune’s online network includes 16 news websites, 25 television and 10 entertainment and 16 mobile websites. Combined, these sites drew almost 14 million average monthly unique visitors during the quarter. About 80 percent of its online revenue comes from classified sales. The Baltimore Sun and Chicago Tribune have launched the first phase of a common advertising systems that will include a sophisticated e-commerce platform for selling classified ads through Tribune newspaper sites.
— The company also saw “robust growth'” at CareerBuilder, where revenue rose 29 percent over last year. Tribune recently increased its stake in the jobs site and is confident about its prospects as it expands outside the U.S. Tim Landon, president of Tribune Interactive: “We are now the leader in the domestic market in terms of revenue, audience and job postings,. We expect that leadership position to continue and our momentum to continue. We think it will continue to be a tough competitive market with Monster, but we are quite positive.”
— Speaking on the recent ouster of Jeff Johnson as publisher of the Los Angeles Times because of a dispute over cost cutting, FitzSimons said, “We reached a point with Jeff where the differences were such that we just needed to make a change, and David (Hiller) is absolutely the best executive to step into that situation.'”