Ad Market 'Pretty Volatile,' New York Times Execs Say as They Report Results

Price for Influencer Agency HelloGiggles Was $12 Million, Company Says

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New York Times CEO Mark Thompson.
New York Times CEO Mark Thompson. Credit: Chris Goodney/Bloomberg

How is The New York Times doing in terms of advertising revenue? It really depends on the month. In January, ad revenue was down 1%; in February, it was down 18%; and in March, it was down 1% again.

"It continues to be a choppy market, especially on the print side," Chief Financial Officer James Follo said on an earnings call Tuesday. CEO Mark Thompson called it "a pretty volatile market," adding that while the Times is confident about its advertising strategy, "the actual needle is moving all over the dial."

Overall, company revenue, at $379.5 million, was down 1.2% for the first quarter of 2016, compared to a year earlier. Circulation revenue was up 2.4%, and advertising revenue was down 6.8%. Mr. Thompson said digital advertising, which dropped 1.3% (compared to a 9% drop in print advertising), "was a more uneven story" during the quarter.

On the bright side, the company added 67,000 digital subscribers, the biggest quarterly increase since 2012. "The rate at which we're adding subscriptions is continuing to accelerate," Mr. Thompson said.

While Mr. Follo said "April is off to a bit of a slow start" in terms of ad revenue, he expects the Times to do better in May and June.

The Times, like other media companies that are combatting declines in print advertising revenue, has continued to pad its offering to marketers, recently snapping up the influencer agency HelloSociety. On the call, Mr. Follo said the Times paid approximately $12 million for the agency, which will be integrated into T Brand Studio.

Meredith Kopit Levien, chief revenue officer, said the company's programmatic business will continue to improve. She singled out mobile programmatic as a particular area of strength.

At the same time, she said advertising generally at the Times continued to involve direct deals with marketers. "This business is getting, for us, more direct ... which gives us an optimism around CPMs," she said, referring to ad rates.

She said the Times, unlike other legacy media companies, has a strong opportunity to convert print advertising revenue into digital advertising revenue.

Company analysts on the call were eager to hear more about what the Times plans to do to cut costs, beyond a recent announcement about closing a printing and editing facility in Paris.

But Times execs were reluctant to give too much detail, other than to say that company costs were being studied closely. "We are aggressive, we will continue to be aggressive, we are very mindful of profitability," Mr. Follo said of the effort.

Of cost-cutting, Mr. Thompson said, "I think this work is never done."

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