Tribune sees more ad, circ losses

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CHICAGO -- Tribune Co. said Friday that monthly revenues dropped 5% in January, keeping up the pressure on the media conglomerate as it continues to study what steps to take to reinvigorate its operations and slumping share price.

The worsening advertising environment for newspapers took a bigger toll than usual. Ad revenues from the publishing unit declined 7.3% from a year earlier to $268 million, lagging the rest of the industry.

Amid an industrywide slump, J.P. Morgan analyst Frederick Searby called Tribune's latest advertising revenue revenues "the worst monthly publishing ad growth performance in recent years."

Circulation revenue from Tribune's 11 daily newspapers sank 5.2% to $52.9 million, reflecting the continuing loss of readers to the Internet.

Shares in the company closed up 6 cents to $30.70 in trading on the New York Stock Exchange, little-changed since Tribune initiated a review last September that could lead to its breakup.

That process was expected to continue this weekend as a board committee of seven Tribune directors convenes to examine options aimed at boosting the company's share price. After receiving only three outside offers, which Wall Street views as unappealing, the company has been reported to be looking at the possibilities of management spinning off the broadcast division or taking Tribune private.

Tribune spokesman Gary Weitman declined comment on the process and reiterated that the company expects to announce a decision by the end of March.

Total revenue for the five weeks that ended Feb. 4 decreased to $442 million from $465 million the previous January. Revenue from the publishing division was down 6% to $345 million from $367 million a year earlier.

The advertising decline included an 11.9% fall in classified ad revenue, to just under $94 million, due to weak real estate, help wanted and automotive ad sales. Interactive revenue, which is primarily included in classified ad sales, rose 17% but remained comparatively small at $20 million.

Retail ad revenue decreased 5.6% to nearly $104 million due to an "overall retail softness" following the holiday season. This included a 4% drop in preprinted ad revenue.

National ad revenue fell 3.2% led by a decline in auto ads, which were partially offset by gains in movie ads.

The company's broadcasting and entertainment group saw revenue decrease 1.4% to $97 million. The company said television revenues fell 1.5%, while radio and entertainment dipped 0.7%.

Tribune, which owns 23 TV stations, said the revenue outlook for February is better in publishing and broadcast.
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