Emmis 3Q revenue declines, but company still posts profit

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Emmis Communications Corp. Chairman Jeff Smulyan continues to see a silver lining in the otherwise dark cloud hanging over his company and the entire radio industry.

Indianapolis-based Emmis, which released its third-quarter earning report Friday morning, saw significant revenue declines both in the three months ended Nov. 30 and in the year-to-date period. Quarterly revenue was $64.6 million, down 18 percent from the same period a year earlier. Revenue for the first nine months of the fiscal year was down 23 percent from a year ago, to  $188.6 million.

Even so, the media company saw a $1.7 million profit this quarter compared to a $125.7 million loss during the same quarter of last year. The loss last year was due primarily to a $210.2 million impairment loss related to the Federal Communications Commission licenses during the third quarter. Emmis owns 22 radio stations in seven U.S. markets along with radio operations in Bulgaria and Slovakia and seven U.S. magazines.

Smulyan told employees in a Friday letter that there’s reason for optimism.

“If there’s a general theme to our results, it’s that things continue to head in the right direction,” Smulyan wrote. “We continue to see sequential improvements in Emmis’ domestic radio results and our advances accelerated during the recent holiday season.”

In the letter, Smulyan touted investments to stations in New York, Los Angeles and Austin, Texas, as well as “strategy initiatives in [Emmis’] Publishing Division focused on accelerating revenue growth during the upcoming recovery.”

“These steps should help us in the future as our business rebounds,” Smulyan added.

Smulyan told employees that ratings at Emmis stations in St. Louis, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago were surging. Stations in Indianapolis and Austin also were strong “across the board,” he wrote. In Indianapolis, Emmis owns WLHK-FM 97.1, WIBC-FM 93.1, WYXB-FM 105.7 and WFNI-AM 1070.

But even the ever-optimistic Smulyan notes Emmis is still in danger as the tumult in the radio industry continues.

“No matter how much things head in the right direction, it’s clear we aren't out of the woods yet,” Smulyan said. “The economy is better, but it's certainly not on solid footing yet. Advertisers are starting to open up their checkbooks, but they’re not ready to return to pre-recession spending levels.”

And there’s a bit more sobering news in Emmis’ earnings filing, which details a “precipitous decline of advertising spending in [Emmis’] domestic and international radio markets.” Emmis’ biggest advertisers, automotive companies, spent 36 percent less with its radio stations during the first nine months of the current fiscal year than it did during the same period a year previous.

For the nine-month period ended November 30, 2009, revenues of Emmis’ domestic radio stations were down 21.4 percent, compared to domestic radio markets overall where Emmis has stations, which were down 18.3 percent, according to Miller Kaplan, a Los Angeles-based media consultancy.

Emmis shares were trading at $1.19 around noon, down 10 cents from Thursday's closing price.


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