NBCU Profit Drops as Local Ad Market Withers

NBC Universal saw its fourth quarter 2008 profit fall 6.3 percent to $865 million, as a strong showing by the media company’s cable networks was offset by steep advertising declines at its owned-and-operated TV stations.

In the prior-year period, NBCU posted a profit of $923 million.

A cratering local ad economy devastated NBCU’s O-&-Os, where revenue dropped 25 percent and operating profit skidded 55 percent versus the fourth quarter of 2007.

Meanwhile, the cable networks unit––which includes USA Network, Bravo, Sci Fi Channel, Oxygen, MSNBC and CNBC––put together a solid quarter, with profit up 22 percent, on an 11 percent rise in revenue.

“Cable had another great quarter,” said GE vice chairman and chief financial officer Keith Sherin. “It’s strong everywhere.” Sherin noted that MSNBC posted record ratings gains in the final quarter of ‘08, although GE seemed to have low-balled its own numbers. (Per Nielsen prime time ratings data, MSNBC grew its nightly audience by 162 percent in the period, averaging 1.34 million viewers. For its part, GE touted a relatively moderate 37 percent jump in MSNBC’s Q4 delivery.)

Total revenues at NBCU dropped 2.6 percent to $4.43 billion in the quarter. For calendar-year 2008, NBCU posted a profit of $3.13 billion (+0.8 percent), as revenues rose 10.1 percent to just under $17 billion.