CBS Profits Rise 14 Percent on Boost from Syndication

By: Seth Sutel
By: Seth Sutel


NEW YORK (AP) -- CBS Corp. reported a 14 percent increase in first-quarter earnings Tuesday as higher syndication sales from "CSI" made up for not having the Super Bowl broadcast this year. Its shares rose nearly 3 percent.

The company, which also owns the Showtime cable channel, Simon & Schuster and a major radio business, earned $244.3 million in the first three months of the year, up from $213.5 million a year ago.

Profits per share rose to 36 cents, beating the 33 cents predicted by analyts polled by Thomson Financial, and also above the 28 cents a year ago. The latest figures got a lift from a lower share count due to a stock repurchase program.

Revenue was essentially flat at $3.65 billion versus $3.66 billion a year ago, but still came in ahead of estimates of $3.55 billion.

Separately, the company also announced it was raising its dividend from 25 cents to 27 cents per share.

CBS's shares rose 66 cents, or 2.9 percent, to close at $23.20 Tuesday. They have traded in a 52-week range of $20.68 to $35.75.

TV revenues edged up 1 percent, despite the fact that two events boosted last year's first quarter performance, the Super Bowl and the semifinals of the NCAA men's basketball tournament. The NCAA semifinals aired in the second quarter of this year but the first quarter of last year.

Those factors, combined with station sales and the effects of the Hollywood writers' strike, which was settled in February, led to a 15 percent decline in TV advertising revenues, CBS said.

At the same time, CBS made up ground in TV with higher syndication sales of "CSI" and "Everybody Loves Raymond" and higher fees from its cable channels Showtime and the CBS College Sports Network. TV profits rose 13 percent, partly held back by $34.9 million in restructuring expenses.

CEO Leslie Moonves told analysts on a conference call that he didn't expect current negotiations with an actors' union to result in a strike, saying the tone of the talks was "much more cordial" than those with the writers' union.

Moonves also said the accelerated development season for TV shows this year forced by the writers' strike allowed CBS to save money by taking less time to shoot test versions of new programs.

The company's radio business continued to struggle, with reported revenues falling 9 percent and profits falling 26 percent. The declines partly reflected the sale of some radio stations.

CBS said it expects to see growth in operating income before depreciation and amortization in the range of 3 percent to 5 percent in 2008.

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