Consolidated operating profit increased 14% to $129.1 million, but the gain came mostly from the company selling off real estate and lowering expenses.
Revenue, which the company reports on a consolidated operating basis, dropped 8% to $489 million. Taking the blame was lower political ad spending than in the 2016 quarter, with increases in core advertising and retransmission revenue offsetting the political weakness. The ad picture wasn’t much prettier for the full year, with net advertising revenue dropping 11% to $1.2 billion for the full year.
Tribune, which emerged from bankruptcy in 2013, spun off its print assets in order to concentrate on its broadcast and digital assets. The centerpiece is its local TV station group, but the company also has a nationally distributed cable network, WGN America, a handful of multicast networks and some profitable websites.
Other than a recap of the various regulatory steps taken toward consummating the Sinclair deal, the quarterly earnings release had no forecasts or commentary about the deal. Executives have not conducted a conference call with analysts during the merger review period.
“Looking ahead to 2018,” said CEO Peter Kern, “while we are keenly focused on the completion of our pending merger, we also see growth opportunities in the core business, with the shift in our programming strategy at WGN America expected to turn that business into a significant EBITDA contributor, and the highly contested midterm elections expected to drive a resurgence of political advertising revenue across our diverse footprint of stations. In addition, we expect to realize significant tax savings from the recent changes in the tax code on both our core business operations as well as on any potential gains from continued asset sales.”