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NYTCo Earnings Call: Citing Weakness in Display, Shifts Emphasis To CPC Rev Model

imageUpdate: In the middle of the call discussing its poor Q4 performance, Martin Nisenholtz, NYTCo’s SVP for digital operations, said that with display looking particularly weak at, the company would begin a site redesign that’s intended to reduce its exposure to display. Instead, cost-per-click is a growing category for About, and the redesign would try to exploit that more. Secondly, CEO Janet Robinson noted that while retail has had a particularly challenging Q4, the NYTCo (NYSE: NYT) feels the impact of the Circuit City bankruptcy will be minimal on its ad revenues.

The most painful hit, however, was on the classified front. Robinson said that combined print and online job ads plummeted 43.5 percent. Online employment ad revs also fell 35.7 percent in Q4, which were in line with December’s numbers, which saw online recruitment dollars fall 36 percent.

Original post: After reading her statement about the effects of the disastrous economy on the newspaper industry at large and the New York Times Co.’s attempts to manage the turmoil, CEO Janet Robinson led the Q4 call by emphasizing its plans to reduce costs. But despite recent efforts to help — the Carlos Slim loan, the sale-leaseback on its midtown HQ and the possible sale of stake in New England Sports Ventures announced earlier — the NYTCo’s troubles continue to mount. As CFO Jim Follo pointed out that the pension fund is currently underfunded by roughly $600 million, mostly because of the declines in the stock market.

— Beginning this month, NYTCo will no longer be releasing monthly revenue releases. A number of other newspaper companies have decided discontinue month-to-month financial updates, since the news has only been getting worse. More after the jump

For more, the full transcript is here from Seeking Alpha.

— At the beginning of the call, Robinson listed the bad news affecting classifieds, which were down 43 percent. Trying to find some bright spots, Robinson focused on the ad sales related to the inauguration coverage both in print and online. The company also is expecting to realize incremental revenue from its recent decision to offer front page ads earlier this month. Her main point was that as the economy bears down on all newspapers, NYTCo is continuing to push ahead with new ad initiatives, which it believes ultimately benefit the company.

Display and CPC: Martin Nisenholtz, SVP, digital operations: The softness in display advertsing is something that we’ve been seeing all year. While the has great strength in display,’s strength is in cost-per-click. We’ll be looking at the design of the site to optimize it for that business, as CPC is still growing relative to display’s sinking. Nisenholtz: “The Times’ brand has seen its rate strength hold up on display. Where is has weakened, is in the non-premium display on, which doesn’t have as strong a brand.” He added that the company relies on ad networks to handle about 50 percent of its non-premium inventory, which is in line with the rest of the industry. Denise Warren, the’s GM and chief advertising officer of the NYT Media Group, added: “We have consistently out-performed the market in display advertising.” Asked later about the costs of shifting’s model to a CPC basis, Nisenholtz said that the company is taking a serious look at keeping those expenses under control.

Big box bankruptcy: About 13 percent of the NYT’s advertising is retail, meaning the the company, which overall gets 24 percent of its revs from that category, will lessen the impact. As for Circuit City’s bankruptcy, although it was a consistent advertiser, Robinson expects it will have a small effect. Looking at January ad trends in general, Robinson said movie studio advertising has pulled back as well. But classified has been the biggest hit. If you talk to media buyers, the first half of the year is a time of pullback, not that the second half will be robust. But we expect advertising to pick up somewhat. Warren added that January should see some lift from movie studios related to the Golden Globes and Academy Awards presentations.

Ad pricing in ’09: One analyst asked about price discounting, but Robinson said that ad prices will stay where they are, with some minimal increases at some properties. Robinson: From a discount perspective, we feel the audiences we deliver, both print and online, are very desirable. Once you start on the path of discounts, it’s hard to get off.