Fisher Falls on Politics and Cars

SEATTLE: Retransmission helped the20 Fisher Communications TV stations during the first quarter of 2009, but it couldn’t make up for the implosion of the automobile sector. TV revenues fell 27 percent to $20.3 million. Political was down 94 percent, from $604,000 last year to $39,000 this year. Automotive fell 62 percent; retail, down 34 percent and professional services, down 23 percent.

Retransmission generated $973,000 in 1Q09, up 39 percent. Fisher said the total did not include $950,000 to $1 million “attributable to certain retransmission consent agreements with key provisions, including economic terms, agreed upon, but which remained unexecuted at March 31.” These revenues will likely show up in 2Q, the company said.

A spat with Dish Network over retransmission continued through the quarter. Seven Fisher stations have been absent on Dish rolls since Dec. 17, 2008 when the previous retrans agreement expired. Fisher has sued Dish for breach of contract over a $1 million it says the satellite provider owes on a prior retrans agreement for a station Fisher acquired in 2006. Fisher said Dish is unlikely to hammer out any new retrans agreements until the lawsuit goes away.

Broadcast cash flow for the TV stations was $252,000 compared to $6.7 million a year ago, down 96 percent. Fisher said the decline was “solely attributable to the revenue shortfall as operating expenses decreased 5.9 percent year over year.”

Consolidated revenues of the TV stations, eight radio stations and Fisher Plaza in Seattle came to $28.5 million, down 25 percent form last year. Net loss was $4.3 million, or 49 cents a share, compared to $1.1 million last year, or 12 cents a share. The decrease was pinned on the TV and radio stations.

“During the first quarter, our financial performance continued to be hampered by the negative macro-economic conditions that have been affecting the entire broadcast industry since the middle of last year, Fisher President and CEO Colleen B. Brown. “Despite this softness, our stations continue to take market share where ad dollars are being spent…. We also remain focused on diversifying our sources of revenue by expanding our fast-growing Internet business and by monetizing our valuable content that we provide our distribution partners through retransmission fees.”

Fisher repurchased nearly $15.2 million in 8.625 percent senior notes due 2014 for $13 million in cash, recording a net gain of $1.8 million in the quarter. The company repurchased another $10 million with of senior notes for $8.9 million this month.

Shares of Fisher climbed 7 percent from the opening bell by mid-day to $13.05 on a larger rally related to the banking sector. – Deborah D. McAdams