Hearst-Argyle CEO Expresses Concern About NBC

Oct 28, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Hearst-Argyle Television CEO David Barrett on Thursday acknowledged his station group is concerned about the ratings slide taking place at NBC and said the company is encouraged by the improvement taking place at ABC. But he said he isn’t ready to make any definitive conclusions about either network’s performance.

Speaking to analysts during a conference call to discuss third-quarter earnings, Mr. Barrett said his company is “focused on NBC” and described the network as “challenged.”

“They have a lot of work to do, but are nowhere near where ABC was,” Mr. Barrett said. He added that working in NBC’s favor is its continued strength in the 10 p.m. time period, which provides Hearst-Argyle stations the lead-in needed to maintain the stations’ evening-news dominance.

Meanwhile, Mr. Barrett said that despite the success of ABC series “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost,” ABC is still in need of hit shows in the 10 p.m. time period.

“We need ABC to be more competitive at 10 o’clock,” he said.

Still, he said, Hearst-Argyle’s stations are reaping the benefit of the success of “Housewives.” He noted that the company has three 30-second spots to sell during the show and that the ABC stations it owns have seen significant increases in rates for those spots.

Political advertising continued to be a major driver for Hearst-Argyle, as the 24-station group generated $22.1 million in political ad spending in the quarter and is on track to hit $83 million for the year. The company has the benefit of owning stations in 11 of the 17 so-called battleground states in the presidential election.

The strength of political, coupled with growth in several nonpolitical categories — including automotive, which jumped 8 percent — helped the company report a 32 percent rise in third-quarter profit to $30.4 million, or 32 cents a share, compared with year-ago figures of $22.7 million, or 24 cents a share. Revenue climbed 16 percent to $194 million.

Hearst-Argyle also benefited from solid sales generated from the Summer Olympics. The company’s NBC stations booked $19.5 million in Olympics-related revenue, up from the 2000 Sydney Games figure of $18.4 million.