|Dennis FitzSimons, chairman, president and CEO, Tribune Co.
The brass, speaking at the 33rd UBS Global Media Conference in New York, also said again and again that they were controlling or cutting what costs they could, a subject of contention this year partly because it has included significant layoffs.
Tribune Co., for example, has eliminated 900 jobs this year, mostly from its publishing division, to help keep expenses flat despite higher fuel, newsprint and employee-benefit costs.
“Our focus on cost management will enable us to redeploy our resources,” said Dennis FitzSimons, chairman, president and CEO, Tribune, citing expanded reader research and new hires for classified ad sales as two beneficiaries. “Our tradition of journalistic excellence isn’t going to change.”
Protestor crashes Tribune presentation
Not everybody bought that line; a protestor crashed Tribune’s later presentation at the Credit Suisse First Boston Media Week conference, the other big media confab going on in New York this week.
The protestor, from MoveOn.org Media Action, took the microphone at the start of the question-and-answer session to berate executives over job cuts and deliver about 45,000 petition signatures backing his position. “Since the Tribune publishing division has had a profit this year of $585.9 million, many of us are wondering why you’re cutting the ability to deliver the news that consumers want,” he said. (That profit figure refers to the first three quarters of the year.)
Receiving no answer, the activist handed the signatures to a Tribune corporate-communications executive after the session. Tribune had no new comment on the MoveOn campaign, but said in a statement earlier this week that it continues to invest far more than anyone else in its markets to provide comprehensive news coverage.
'Commitment to serve'
“Rather than focus on staff reductions, we would encourage you to focus on the full extent of our commitment to serve our communities exceptionally well,” the statement said.
Other presentations went off without disruption -- even if the disruptive forces roiling the industry remained evident.
Scott Smith, president, Tribune Publishing, told the UBS audience that his division turned in a “very mixed” performance in 2005. The Chicago Tribune and the company’s small dailies performed well, but rebuilding revenue at The Los Angeles Times and Newsday on Long Island was taking longer than planned, he said. With anticipated rebounds in segments like movie advertising, a revamped front page at The South Florida Sun-Sentinel, improved subscriber retention and other factors taken into account, Mr. Smith added that “we are confident ad revenue performance will improve in 2006.”
New York Times Co.
The New York Times Co. took the stage later in the day, touting savings from moves like using lighter newsprint, freeing ad sales staff from administrative duties and, of course, the ongoing elimination of about 700 jobs.
But its performance this year varied by division. Ad revenue increased 3% through November at The New York Times Media Group, which includes the flagship paper, its Web site, The International Herald Tribune and WQXR-FM, New York. Ad revenue at the Herald Tribune itself was up 14%. And the Regional Media Group saw ad revenue rise 5%. At The New England Media Group, however, ad revenue through November fell 3%, partly because of weak telecommunications, banking, department store and automotive advertising.
Janet L. Robinson, president-CEO, said the company’s three priorities next year would be strengthening its presence on multiple media platforms, creating new products that target specific audiences and improving both its content and its ad sale processes. She predicted average ad rate increases of 5% in 2006.
Peter R. Kann, chairman-CEO, Dow Jones, said his company would spend 2006 controlling costs and looking for business opportunities. “We’re part of an industry dealing with an enormous amount of change,” he acknowledged. But readers’ confidence in Dow Jones brands like The Wall Street Journal and MarketWatch, among other things, will help the company seize opportunities that arise, he said.
Gannett executives gave the most enthusiastic presentation of the day. “We expect Gannett will have a record-breaking year,” said Craig A. Dubow, president-CEO. “I am truly encouraged by the opportunities I see,” he said, pointing to mobile content delivery and the possibilities allowed online now that broadband access has reached critical mass.