A rocky integration of the Time Inc. titles, a lack of plans to sell it TV stations, and lowered expectations for the year ahead had Wall Street turning negative on Meredith Corp. on Thursday.
The stock took a bashing — falling more than 20 percent. Shares hit a 52-week low of $31.43 in mid-day trading before closing at $33.68, down $10.11 a share, or 23 percent.
That came even as its fourth-quarter revenue of $786 million — while down 1.6 percent compared with a year ago — actually beat analysts estimates by $12.97 million. And profit was up in its magazine division.
Meredith CEO Tom Harty acknowledged it took longer than anticipated to turn around the ad side of the old Time titles after its $2.8 billion acquisition wrapped up in January 2018. Meredith kept People, InStyle and Real Simple and reaped a one-time gain of $435 million by selling off Time magazine, Fortune and Sports Illustrated.
“While it has taken longer than we initially expected to elevate the print and digital performance of the Time Inc. assets, we remain confident in the long-term vision and potential of the National Media Group brand portfolio,” said Harty.
Harty also said Meredith discovered that Time Inc. subscriptions were padded with more low-quality subscribers — often from third parties—rather than the preferred direct consumer-to-publisher model.
Harty continued to sing the praises of digital, predicting a mid- single-digit increase in digital ad revenue next year, while print experiences a mid-single-digit decline.
“Digital advertising revenue now makes up a third of all National Media Group advertising revenue compared to just 16 percent five years ago,” he said. “That said, we acknowledge the challenges we face that resulted in a reset of Ebitda expectations for fiscal 2019 and going forward. Foremost, it took longer than expected to turn around advertising performance with the legacy Time Inc. brands.”
“Additionally, the number of low margin magazine subscriptions we encountered inside the legacy Time Inc. brands were more than anticipated. Both issues required additional investment spending and impacted our Ebitda generation.”
The company is continuing to try to unload the sports blog FanSided, which was split from SI when the new owner, Authentic Brands, didn’t want it.
Meredith has no plans to sell the TV stations, which had another record year in fiscal 2019. “We love our TV stations,” Harty said.