Nexstar’s Q1 Ad Sales Dip 6% as the CW Network Helps Digital Revenue Grow More Than 16%

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Nexstar reported its first-quarter 2023 earnings Tuesday, revealing its overall TV ad sales were down 6% year-over-year but its digital revenue increased by a record 16.5%, in part due to the inclusion of the CW Network in its offering.

Core ad sales were down 2.6%, while political ad revenue fell 66.7% compared to the year ago period, which saw a significant boost due to the midterm election.

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Distribution revenue rose 9%. “Other” revenue was up 9.1%. Per Netflix, 66% of its first quarter venue came from its distribution, digital and “other” revenue streams.

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The TV station group giant turned a profit of $88 million in Q1. Looking at the CW alone, the broadcaster posted a $83 million loss, while Nexstar, excluding the CW, had a net income of $171 million.

Free cash flow stood at $383 million for the quarter ended March 31.

Wall Street forecast earnings per share (EPS) of $2.67 on $1.24 billion in revenue, according to analyst consensus data provided by Refinitiv. Nexstar reported diluted EPS of $2.97 on $1.26 billion in revenue.

“Nexstar’s first quarter financial results once again outperformed consensus expectations across all key financial metrics including net revenue, Adjusted EBITDA and attributable free cash flow,” Nexstar CEO Perry Sook said in a letter to shareholders accompanying the financial results. “All-time high quarterly distribution revenue and the benefit of The CW acquisition more than offset the cyclical year-over-year decline in political and Olympic advertising, resulting in record first quarter net revenues for the Company. We returned nearly 60% of first quarter attributable free cash flow to shareholders in the form of dividends and share repurchases. In addition to posting another strong quarter of financial results, we continue to execute our strategy focused on leveraging our linear, digital, mobile and streaming assets and capabilities in new ways to drive increased monetization and growth across the portfolio. We are also driving strong momentum across our organic growth initiatives. NewsNation remains the fastest growing cable news network with Q1 2023 marking its highest audience delivery to date. As we expand our programming on the network, it continues to be validated by industry watchdog groups as non-biased and a reliable source of news. We’re also making continued progress on our plan for The CW with key personnel appointments, further overhead cost reductions and new programming additions, including our exclusive multi-year partnership with LIV Golf.

“We are excited about the opportunities in front of us and remain confident in our near and long-term strategies, the quality of our assets, the strength of our financial position and our ability to create new value for shareholders. Nexstar’s portfolio of local and national media assets provide nationwide reach with local activation at a greater scale than any other broadcast network owner, creating a differentiated and highly attractive multi-media platform for advertisers and brands seeking direct consumer engagement in an increasingly fragmented marketplace. Looking forward, we expect 2023 will continue to benefit from recently renegotiated distribution contracts representing more than half of our subscribers at the end of last year, while 2024 will see strong upside from presidential election year political advertising and additional distribution contract renewals later this year.”

During a Q1 earnings call with analysts later Tuesday, Sook confirmed that “several of the highly acclaimed new scripted series included in our summer and fall schedules” for the CW Network “have already been written and produced and are therefore not affected by the current writers strike.”

Nexstar stock closed Monday at $166.01 per share. The regular U.S. stock markets will reopen at 9:30 a.m. ET.

Sook and other Nexstar executives will host a conference call at 10 a.m. ET to discuss the quarter in greater detail.

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