Tribune Company (TRB: NYSE) executives today updated business progress and outlined company strategies for 2005 at the annual UBS Warburg and CS First Boston media conferences in New York City.
“Our ongoing operations are strong,” said Dennis FitzSimons, Tribune chairman, president and chief executive officer. “Excluding special charges, this year we’ll generate about $1.6 billion in operating cash flow and $825 million in free cash flow. We have a very solid financial foundation going forward.”
“Our financial results have been impacted by the challenges we’ve faced this year,”
added FitzSimons. “Through three quarters we’ve taken charges related to staff reductions and to circulation issues at Newsday and Hoy. This quarter, we’ll take another charge for staff reductions primarily at our East Coast newspapers.”
Scott Smith, Tribune Publishing chief operating officer, outlined the group’s priorities for 2005, emphasizing the broad reach of the company’s 14 daily newspapers. “Our newspapers are read by more than 8 million people on average daily and almost 12 million on Sunday,” said Smith. “Our daily papers reach 45 percent of all adults in our major markets every week, including more than 40 percent of those ages 18 to 34.”
“We are committed to growing responsive readership, revenue and ad share, controlling expenses smartly as well as innovating and executing with consistent discipline,” he added. Smith will assume the post of Tribune Publishing president on Jan. 1, 2005, upon the retirement of Jack Fuller.
Patrick Mullen, president of Tribune Broadcasting, said, “A choppy ad environment, atypical political spending and the Olympics came together to make this a challenging year. We’re looking forward to 2005, a non-Olympics, non-election year, when our television stations typically gain market share.”
Mullen also pointed to the success of Superstation WGN, saying, “In the four years since we’ve taken over distribution, the superstation has grown from 52 million to 65 million homes, well on our way to 75 million homes,” he said. “This generates more sub fees, as well as higher ratings, which, in turn, drives advertising revenue.”
Don Grenesko, Tribune chief financial officer, said Tribune’s capital expenditures for 2004 would be about $220 million, and slightly higher in 2005. He also said the company’s interest expense for 2005 would be somewhat below this year due to debt refinancing that took place in the spring. Finally, Grenesko said Tribune’s tax rate for 2005 would be 39 percent, the same rate as this year.