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Earnings: CBS Swings To $55 Million Loss For Q1; Plays Up Interactive

imageIt’s not usually a good sign when your earnings report starts with a vote of confidence from the boss and is followed by an explanation about why the same quarter last year was so good. CBS Corp. (NYSE: CBS) lost $55.3 million, or $0.8 per share, in the first quarter, compared with a profit of $244.3 million, or $0.37 per share, in Q108. Revenues of $3.1 billion for Q1, were down from $3.65 billion.

Like the showman that he is, CBS CEO Leslie Moonves — under fire by a lot of critics but supported publicly by Sumner Redstone — talked about the problems, then tried to focus on internal trends suggesting the second half of 2009 will be better.

About those comps: It wasn’t just the decline in advertising competitors are facing; Q108 included political spending, lower production costs because of the writers’ strike, and a benefit from a change in CSI distribution. CBS says it benefited from the “positive impact” of acquiring CNET Networks, higher affiliate and home entertainment fees, and $75 million in cost cutting. But the impact of CNET overall on CBS isn’t that easy to unpeel, at least financially.

CBS Interactive revenue nearly tripled with the acquisition of CNET — to $133.6 million from $52.9 million. If CBS owned CNET during Q108, though, comparable revenue would be down 5 percent; it’s not completely apples-apples but that’s still better than some interactive divisions at other companies that break out numbers for interactive groups. The Disney (NYSE: DIS) Interactive Media Group, which was down 17 percent, and Fox Interactive Media (NYSE: NWS), down 11 percent. Unlike CBS, neither group includes revenue from broadcast network sites.

Operating income before depreciation and amortization (OIBDA) also showed an uptick to $8.2 million from $1.1 million. But — on paper — CBS Interactive still lost money — $11.6 million compared with $2.7 million, attributed to depreciation and amortization expenses related to CNET.

CBS is still selling the $1.8 billion acquisition of CNET Networks, one of the last big media deals before the poor economy kicked in. The integration of the formerly public company with the interactive properties of CBS has gone fairly smoothly for a media merger and the company continues to tout traffic growth and its ability to cut costs. Moonves highlighted growth in total monthly uniques — up 20 percent over since CNET was acquired; it has moved up a notch in the comScore (NSDQ: SCOR) Media Metrix top internet propoerties and the expansion and relaunch of also has helped it break into the top 10 for video viewers as well. (Just imagine what the numbers might be with Hulu’s content, which was yanked soon after the redesign.)

Earnings release | Webcast

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