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Earnings: Media General Reports Higher Q3 Earnings Aided By Politics, Olympics; Narrows Digital Loss

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Looks like Media General (NYSE: MEG) reaped the most benefits possible from the politics-Olympics combo in Q3 but it will be a tough performance to repeat. Under fire from activist investor Harbinger and others, the company nearly tripled earnings — $6.1 million, or $.28 per share, compared with $2.5 million, or $.11 cents per share, in Q307. Analysts had higher expectations, estimating EPS of $.30, Reuters reported. Revenues dropped 10.9 percent to $193.7 million from $217 million the previous year. (The earnings release is a bit of a mess, trying to showcase results from continuing operations versus the full monty including five TV stations that “have been or will be sold.”) Among the factors contributing to this quarters performance: the job cuts and other belt-tightening cut operating costs by nearly 10 percent; broadcast profits rose 24.5 percent; and the results don’t include the losses from the newsprint division sold off earlier this year.

Interactive: A mixed bag … revenue rose 9 percent, aided by a 29 percent increase in local advertising and a “strong performance” by, acquired in Q1. But it’s still in the red albeit a smaller loss: $336,000 compared with a $1 million loss last year (excluding a writedown). Some more concrete results from the Yahoo (NSDQ: YHOO) Newspaper Consortium: “the partnership with Yahoo!HotJobs generated $1.7 million in revenues in the quarter, helping to mitigate a 12 percent decrease in Classified revenues.” The company attributes the local ad increases to “a continued focus on direct sales, increased staffing and training” leading to “growth in banners and sponsorships.” But national and regional dropped 11 percent “due to softer advertising from national agencies, particularly at in Tampa.”

Warning: slow growth ahead: Blockdot’s declining advergaming revenues in Q3 “reflected a slower pace of incoming projects, as a result of the weaker economy, compared with the same 2007 period.”

Earnings release | Webcast (11 a.m. eastern)

September revs down 13.9 percent: Separate from its Q3 report, Media Gen said total company revenues came in $59.7 million versus $69.3 million the year before for a 13.9 percent drop. The Interactive Media Division, though, had revenue gains of 8.1 percent, citing 17 percent growth in local advertising and as well as revenues from DealTaker. But the online side wasn’t all rosy: The division’s national/regional advertising fell 22.3 percent, due mostly to weakness in the Florida market. Also, online classifieds dropped 17.5 percent overall. Nevertheless, Media Gen said Interactive generated an increase in “employment liner advertising” through its Yahoo HotJobs partnership, though no specific numbers were offered. September Revenues Release More from the earnings call after the jump.

Not just Yahoo: [David adds] During the call, Marshall Morton, Media Gen’s president and CEO said the company was looking forward to taking advantage of Yahoo’s additional display offerings. He added that the company wasn’t just relying on Yahoo and is looking to online revenues to be generated by real estate ads with Zillow as well. Again, revenue numbers or specific targets were not discussed.

Online ad price hike?: When asked about the kinds of prices Media Gen is getting from online ads given the tougher economy, Reid Ashe, the company’s COO said that some publications are more “under-priced than over priced in some markets.” He added that ad rates for some of its online newspapers may go up in 2009.

The future: Morton said he wants Media Gen to be regarded as an “information company” as opposed to a newspaper company. Certainly, given the downward trend the industry has been facing, it makes sense to want to avoid the label. But newspapers are and will remain the core of Media Gen, Morton said. But newspapers can take on different forms. “Shrinking the size of the newspaper isn’t necessarily bad. It’s an option in some areas. The customers who read a full newspaper these days are few and far between. But we still have to provide the information they want. We’ll look at that things like shrinking newspapers’ size on a market by market basis. But what will the future look like? Newspapers have a long life, even if they’re not a necessarily a printed paper delivered to the front doorstep.”