Univision reports narrowed Q4 loss

Spanish-language media co sees positive ad trends

NEW YORK -- Univision Communications reported a narrowed fourth-quarter loss Thursday and said advertising momentum has been improving.

President and CEO Joe Uva said on a conference call that he is "bullish" on this year's upfront ad market. Management said scatter ad pricing has been above upfront levels, but Univision, which had a better upfront last year, hasn't seen as strong of an uptick as English-language network owners have argued they have experienced in scatter in recent months.

CFO Andrew Hobson said the local ad business has been improving for the company in the first quarter and has been gaining further momentum.

The company didn't give guidance on this year's soccer World Cup, which tends to pack a large amount of ad revenue into a single month.

Uva said Univision's fourth-quarter results "continue to reflect improvement in the marketplace" as the economy and advertising markets have strengthened. He said the 2010 census provides an opportunity to further highlight the growth of the Hispanic marketplace.

On Thursday's call, Uva also highlighted that the company's Telefutura network has been outperforming the ratings of NBC Universal's Telemundo year-to-date.

The Spanish-language media company on Thursday posted a loss of $174.6 million, compared with $1.99 billion in the year-ago period that was driven by a much bigger impairment charge.

For the full year 2009, Univision's loss narrowed to $252.1 million from $5.13 billion.

Operating income before depreciation and amortization, a popular way for media companies to report their underlying performance, declined 1.4% to $210.5 million in the latest quarter. Revenue rose 2.1% to $515.9 million driven by higher TV revenue that offset lower radio and interactive media figures.

For 2009, revenue fell 2.9%, and OIBDA rose 3.2%.

"Univision made significant strides in many areas in 2009, even while navigating through a very challenging economic environment," said Uva. He highlighted revenue diversification through new retransmission consent agreements and new strategic partnerships, as well as the launch of Univision Studios.