The NYTCo’s “relentless” focus on controlling costs are what contributed to a major turnaround in Q4, said Janet Robinson, president and CEO, as she kicked off the earnings call. She also provided a brief outline on the debt and how the metered approach will provide flexibility between free and paid content and “keep us connected to search driven web.” She also said that it takes time to build and supply the best system, which is why the meters won’t go up until 2011. In addition holding down expenses, Robinson pointed to other goals, such as diversifying the company’s revenue streams. In particular, the company is interested in growing circ revenue as classified ads continued to plummet.
— Going local: The launch of local print and online sections will continue throughout the year, Robinson said. “Local coverage will complement our national and international reporting. We are planning expanded reports in other key markets across the country.” So far, the NYT has seen its expanded San Francisco local section challenged by the WSJ, which has also been beefing up New York metro coverage. The NYT’s other local dedicated coverage includes Chicago and an online hyperlocal effort called The Local.
— Mobile: Robinson also pointed to some mobile success, including reaching 75 million pageviews on its mobile sites as well as 3 million iPhone app downloads
— Outlook: Noting that the ad environment still remains difficult, particularly in the case of classifieds, Robinson pointed to improved signs for print ad revenue. Digital ad revs will remain in line with Q4 levels. Looking at particular ad categories, Scott Heekin-Canedy, the NYT’s president and GM, pointed to tech, media, autos, health care, packaged goods advertisers as showing signs of being more willing to spend, but there’s still a great deal of skittishness in the market.
— Red Sox: Not much progress on selling the NYTCo’s stake in the Red Sox and its stadium, Fenway Park. Robinson cited the difficult real estate market, but insisted the company is moving forward in pursuing a sale.
— Metered hires: After Robinson reiterated the goals of the metered plan, Martin Nisenholtz, SVP for digital operations, touched on some of the costs involved. He said that while the company will do some hiring to help launch the metered system, the costs are expected to be small.
— No news about January: Robinson resisted specifics on January trends. Heekin-Canedy chimed in, stressing that January is not a good indicator for the rest of the year. We’re definitely seeing a change in attitude and sequential improvement as advertisers launch new annual plans.
— About Face: In contrast to past conference calls, NYTCo (NYSE: NYT) execs did not downplay the role of display in the About Group’s revenue pie. Over the past year, the company has stressed the importance of cost-per-click ads, while executives would add that they were not emphasizing that ad format at the expense of display. However, with display looking weak over the past year, the comments were understandable. After Robinson mentioned About’s stronger display showing in Q4, Nisenholtz noted the categories that are seeing growth, including consumer packaged goods, education, and financial services.