Turner Networks Boosts Ad Sales 21%

Time Warner boosted its fourth-quarter profit by 22 percent, surpassing Wall Street’s expectations thanks in large part to strong advertising sales gains at its cable networks unit.

The media conglomerate announced its Q4 earnings rose to 68 cents per share, surpassing analysts’ projections of 62 cents. Net income rose to $769 million for the three months ended Dec. 31, up from $631 million in the prior-year period.

Consolidated revenue was up 8 percent to $7.81 billion, on overall ad sales gains of 10 percent.

The Turner Networks division, which includes TNT, TBS, truTV, CNN and the premium service HBO, increased revenue 14 percent versus the fourth quarter of 2009, to $3.35 billion. A strong upfront and scatter market boosted sales by 21 percent as the Turner nets took in $1.1 billion in the quarter. (For the calendar year, Turner grew its ad sales dollars 14 percent versus 2009, raking in $3.74 billion.)

Per Nielsen, TBS grew its prime-time deliveries in Q4 by 3 percent, taking third place among ad-supported cable nets with an average nightly draw of 2.35 million viewers. Adults 25-54 were up 1 percent to 1.12 million viewers while the 18-49 demo dipped 2 percent to 1.22 million.

TNT took fifth place in the quarterly ratings race, averaging 1.83 million viewers, while finishing fourth among the 18-49 set (792,000).

Cartoon Network improved 5 percent in prime (1.45 million) and grew its share of kids 6-11 by 6 percent. After losing nearly half (46 percent) of its overall deliveries in Q3, CNN stopped the bleeding somewhat, averaging 566,000 prime-time viewers, a decline of 16 percent versus Q4 2009. The core news demo dropped 10 percent as the news net averaged a mere 167,000 adults 25-54––or nearly 100,000 fewer viewers than MSNBC.

The truTV property experienced some growing pains, falling 8 percent with an average delivery of 1.04 million viewers, while 25-54s fell 10 percent.

Sub fees were up 9 percent to $1.94 billion. Adjusted operating income at the networks group jumped 20 percent to $904 million.

At Time Inc., ad sales slipped 1 percent to $553 million, while subscription revenue fell 7 percent to $340 million. Adjusted operating income for the publishing unit jumped 63 percent to $182 million.

In a conference call with investors, Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes reminded investors of a previously announced premium video-on-demand movie service that will bow in the second quarter of 2011. The new VOD package will allow viewers to screen films 60 days after their theatrical release. (A standard movie window is 90 days.)

Bewkes said that this year would see Time Warner taking an aggressively proactive stance. “In 2011, we’re even more confident about how we’re positioned,” he said. “We’ll increase our investments in programming, production and marketing even more than we did last year.”

Time Warner expects 2011 earnings to rise by a percentage in the “low teens” from a base of $2.41 per share.

In late-morning trading, shares of TWX were up 7.03 percent to $34.58.