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@ UBS Media Week: Gannett Says Revenue Declines Are Slowing

Gannett (NYSE: GCI) execs say that the revenue declines are appearing to slow and that Q4 is shaping up to be its strongest period all year. The company has also reduced debt by several million dollars, ending the year with $3.1 billion owed. CFO Gracia Martore said that number will be “well-below” 3x debt covenants. Also, revenues are expected to be $5.6 billion with operating cash flow of $1 billion.
Martore also outlined the cost-cutting efforts, which has been crucial to Gannett’s profitability — as similar efforts have boosted other newspaper publishers’ profits. Headcount will be down in the “high single digits” in general by the end of ’09; on the digital side, the workforce will be reduced by “the low single digits” as costs are expected to rise a bit.

As for online plans, Chris Saridakis, chief digital officer, conceded that ad efforts continue to be hampered by the weak economy. However, traffic to its sites continue to rise and the company expects to benefit when marketers are ready to spend. To coax more ad dollars, in two weeks, Gannett Digital will rollout a new video platform, which the company’s rich media provider PointRoll, is “poised to capitalize on.”

After the panel, Saridakis told me Gannett is moving its video platform from Maven to Brightcove. “It’ll be one seamless buy for advertisers for all our online outlets, which is still not possible across most systems,” he said.

In mobile, Saridakis noted that USA Today’s iPhone and Android apps have been downloaded 2.5 million times. ShopLocal is also ramping up its Circular Central effort, which replicates Sunday print experience online.

Other highlights from the panel:

Bob Dickey, head of U.S. Community Publishing: Mobile traffic was up 137 percent. Also, Gannett is not going to raise ad rates, as the market is still too soft for most marketers.

Dave Lougee, broadcasting president: We’ve been concerned about NBC’s low ratings for some time, but are enthused by Comcast (NSDQ: CMCSA) deal.

Matt Ferguson, CEO, CareerBuilder (Gannett has a controlling interest in the company): No one needs to be told that the U.S job market has had a tough two years. But the recent November job numbers were better than expected. There will be $3.9 billion spent this year on online recruiting. That number will rise to $4.9 billion in 2013, so Ferguson cautions patience waiting for the classifieds comeback.

Martore concluded by noting that publishing and digital were down 17 percent and 13 percent lower quarter to date, respectively, but the declines are slowing. “Even employment classifieds are better than what they were last year,” she said. “November’s job ads were 10 percent better than October.”