Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. turned in a better-than-expected second quarter Wednesday, thanks to strong advertising sales and lower expenses to operate its television stations.
The Hunt Valley broadcaster said it earned $41.3 million, or 42 cents per share, in the three months ended June 30, compared with $17.8 million, or 19 cents per share, a year earleir. Wall Street analysts had expected earnings of 37 cents per share.
Shares of Sinclair closed up 49 cents each at $32.30 share Wednesday.
Broadcast revenues from continuing operations jumped to $404.2 million, up 45 percent from $279.3 million during the second quarter of 2013.
The TV station owner closed last week on a major acquisition, buying seven ABC affiliates and a Washington-based cable news network from Allbritton Communications for nearly $1 billion.
"With the acquisition of Allbritton now complete, our focus will be on rationalizing and strengthening the portfolio, building upon our existing television station platform as it relates to investments in digital interactive and news content and expanding our recently launched collegiate sports initiative," said David Smith, Sinclair CEO and president, in the company's announcement.
The company also will continue to work on building the "next generation broadcast platform" to better compete with other types of media, Smith said.
Sinclair has been one of the most aggressive buyers of TV stations over the past year and a half, benefiting from low interest rates and a flexible balance sheet, said Tuna Amobi, equity analyst at S&P; Capital IQ.
"That strategy is now starting to pay off," Amobi said. "The closing of that [Allbritton] deal last month bodes well for this kind of strategy."
Building scale has allowed Sinclair better leverage when it comes to negotiating retransmission contracts, which set the fees that cable and satellite TV providers pay Sinclair and other broadcasters to include their signals and content in channel lineups. That has helped Sinclair become less dependent on primarily advertising sales, Amobi said.
When asked during a conference call with analysts about plans to expand the newly acquired Washington-based cable news network, NewsChannel 8, and potentially roll out content to other markets, Smith said it's too early to discuss long-term plans.
Sinclair has said it plans to use NewsChannel 8 to create a unique hybrid model for cable television news, blending national and international coverage with local news customized for each market. Smith said Wednesday executives were beginning to formulate plans and would meet with staff at the Washington channel for the first time later in the day.
"This group has their act together," said Steven M. Marks, vice president and chief operating officer for broadcasting. "It's a very, very well run company… They do extremely well and will complement what we are doing at Sinclair. …We're going to take it to another level."
Smith noted that ratings data shows that NewsChannel 8 has higher viewership numbers at 6 a.m. than CNN, CNBC and Headline News combined.
"What that means is here is a local cable news channel that's been in business 20 years that's never had capital put behind it, with no effort and money, they're as good as or better than [competitors]. We look at that and say there's an opportunity for you," Smith said. "If we can do it there, we can do it everywhere."
During the second quarter, sales from political advertising soared to $11.6 million from $1.5 million in the comparable period a year earlier. Local broadcast sales, including local time sales and retransmission fees from cable and satellite TV providers, jumped 47 percent, while national broadcast revenues rose more than 36 percent. Local sales made up 80 percent of the revenue for the quarter.
The company said its fastest growing advertising categories included political, automotive, medical, fast food and travel. Declines came in the direct response, retail and restaurant categories. Political ad gains should continue thanks to critical races in many of Sinclair's TV markets including the Florida governor's race, Marks said.
"The second half of the year should benefit from the mid-term political elections, as well as new programming for the start of the fall season," said David Amy, COO and executive vice president, in the announcement.
Sinclair announced last month that it plans to launch a college sports network, the American Sports Network, which will be broadcast on Sinclair stations and includes agreements with several NCAA Division I conferences.
Amy said the company remains cautious on its outlook because national ad sales, while improving, are growing at a weaker pace than last year.
The company expects net broadcast sales in the range of $407 million to $409 million for the quarter that ends Sept. 30.