2009-08-12 / Media Watch

Local media mostly silent on their business

Greg Pearson

It's seven months into the year and those of us who actually report news are generally mum on the state of our business. We prefer reporting your bad news instead of ours. But there are signs the general economy might be bottoming out and advertising inquiries - particularly for real estate and automotive - are occurring more frequently.

After languishing in the $2 range for the better part of the year, Media General (owners of the Richmond Times-Dispatch) saw its stock price double and climb to almost $7 last week after announcing a $20.6 million profit compared to last year's $532.2 million dollar loss (mostly a one-time charge). The profit increase was due to cuts in operating expenses (23 percent) since revenue dropped 20 percent. The company's previous highest stock price was $72.

Thanks to a federal bankruptcy court in New York, Gray Television is scheduled to manage seven stations owned by Young Broadcasting including Richmond's WRIC-TV8, according to MediaPostNEWS. The reorganization is part of a Chapter 11 bankruptcy plan with bankers taking control of those television stations. Having bankers calling the shots should make for some newsworthy internal meetings.

Lower television news ratings usually begin at 11 p.m., and so does advertiser demand. Last month, WWBT - Richmond's top-rated station - sometimes went 20 minutes into its late news before taking a commercial break.

Radio One, which specializes in urban format stations, reported company revenues fell 16 percent in the second quarter to $70.1 million from 2008 figures. Its CEO said profits were down despite cost cutting. In Richmond, Radio One owns WCDX, WPZZ, WKJM, WKJS and WTPS.

MediaPostNEWS also reports consumer magazines saw almost a 30 percent decline in ad revenue for the second quarter. Locally, Advertising Concepts Inc, which publishes Chesterfield Living six times a year, has laid off several staff members and put its office building off Hull Street Road up for sale.

Have you noticed how thin The Community Weekly is lately? It doesn't take much time to go through eight pages.

After sailing along for several years with revenue increases of 20 percent and more annually, this newspaper is up just 3.3 percent through July. The advertising soft spots are real estate and legal notices from Chesterfield County (because of fewer rezonings being applied for). A plan to hike circulation from 54,278 to 60,000 is being delayed with a more modest increase next month.

Based on supply and demand, a study by private equity fund Catalyst Investors predicts business will continue to be soft because the Internet has a "nearly unlimited supply of potential advertising inventory." The Internet is gaining market share for advertising, but hardly any operators have figured out how they can make it profitable.

Much of that Internet revenue gain is coming from daily newspapers. An Associated Press list points out that about 100 newspapers in 32 states have stopped printing a paper at least one day per week in the past year.

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