During the NYTCo's Q1 earnings call in April, executives had discussed the possibility of a turnaround in the newspaper publisher's display ad sales, particularly mobile, but analysts don't expect a change any time soon. For now, it looks like more of the same, particularly for the company's display ad sales, which fell 4% in Q1.
While a consensus of analysts compiled by investment researcher Zacks expect the NYTCo's Q2 earnings, which will be released Thursday morning, will show income dropping by as much as 14%, independent analyst Craig Huber expects digital advertising will fall between 2 and 5%.
The factors for the NYTCo's display struggles have remained the same for the past few months: slow economic growth, for one thing, and the challenges of programmatic buying and real-time bidding, which CFO Jim Follo and other executives have said tended to constrain the ability of the company to charge more for its "premium advertising." Last spring, the company began attempting to address those issues head on with the hiring of former Matt Prohaska as programmatic ad director.
The earnings come amid a number of personnel changes that appear designed to shake things up. Earlier this month, NYTCo announced the hire of Meredith Kopit Levien, who left her post as Forbes Chief Revenue Officer. Levien, known for pushing Forbes even further into native advertising, officially begins her new role as EVP of advertising on August 5. Earlier this week, Todd Haskell exited as group VP, advertising for NYTimes.com, a post he'd held since 2007, to become CRO of Hearst Magazines Digital.
In the face of the anticipated online ad fall-off, NYTCo executives are expected to discuss progress on the mobile front, which Follo said had begun to improve in late Q1. And there may be some discussion of its programmatic strategy. Video is another area that the NYTCo, like other publishers, has been trying to build up as a higher-CPM ad offering. Still, observers would be surprised if activity in those three areas were able to meaningfully offset the NYTCo's display slide.
That's probably where Levien's hire comes in. Though Forbes, as a private and much more narrowly focused publisher than the NYTCO, doesn't provide details of its revenues and profits, it is under many of the same pressures as other traditional companies. Forbes has received largely positive attention for its mix of native and programmatic advertising. So Levien's introduction is meant to calm investors and show that she can transfer some of the perceived magic to NYTCo.
But here too, NYTCo's problems will not be solved overnight. Unlike rivals such as Gannett, which is seeing its digital business supported by its strong local broadcast operations, the NYTCo is focused strictly around its flagship newspaper and immediate digital extensions.
In addition to the rising tide of political advertising that is helping to make local TV a revenue powerhouse for companies like Gannett, the company believes it can use its regional presence to capture growing online advertising and marketing dollars as well. That's the thinking behind Gannett's recent acquisition of Dallas TV owner Belo in a deal that has gone from a $1.5 billion valuation to $2.2 billion.
Meanwhile, the NYTCo has been retreating from the local stage, selling off its Regional Media Group and has been considering bids for its Boston Globe stake. In addition, the NYTCo sold the About Group to IAC, after that former digital revenue producer began seeing declines due to diminished search traffic.
The reason behind these maneuvers was to generate some quick cash to satisfy creditors while cutting costs. In terms of looking for growth, the NYTCo's strategy is predicated on doubling down on the core and doing everything it can to make sure digital ad sales reflect that. But with digital still only delivering 24% of the company's total revenues as of Q1, whatever the company does over the next year or so will be largely about getting ready for wider shifts in display spending from direct response to branding.