Warnings were that the first quarter of 2017 would be about as bad financially as the final two of 2016 for newspaper organizations.
That proved to be the case today as Gannett kicked off the reporting season for publicly traded companies. Acquisitions led to some revenue growth. But comparing same properties:
- Print advertising revenues were down 17.7 percent compared to the first quarter of 2016.
- Circulation revenues were down 8 percent.
- With a 3.7 percent growth in digital advertising, total revenues were down 10.7 percent.
While Gannett made money on a cash flow basis, it posted a slight loss for the quarter — $2.1 million on revenues of $773.4 million.
CEO Bob Dickey offered some hope of improvement in a conference call with analysts. Second-quarter ad revenues so far show some recovery, he said, after many retailers had cut way back on preprint advertising late last year and early this year. And national digital advertising is picking up.
Dickey also stood by an earlier prediction that the second half of 2017 will be better than the first.
Cost-cutting was not discussed. But Gannett continues to make staff reductions at some of its properties, and several of its smaller dailies have now shifted to a three-day-a-week schedule for print editions.
Besides its high-profile bid last year for Tronc, Gannett has added a number of local organizations over the last several years, bringing its total to 109 plus USA Today.
While more such acquisitions are possible, CFO Alison Engel commented on the call that there is “not much in the pipeline” that looks attractive.
Instead, she and Dickey said, the company is more likely to expand its digital operations by buying a promising company or “tucking in” a specialized service to its Reach Local digital marketing arm.
Gannett shares, which have declined 48 percent over the last year, were up 4 percent in midday trading since the results were somewhat better than analysts had predicted.