A more refined, more TV-centric Tribune Media Co. swung into the black in the fourth quarter, posting a revenue gain of 11% thanks to political advertising and higher retransmission and carriage fees.
For the period ended Dec. 31, the company reported operating profit of $113.2 million compared with an operating loss of $396.9 million for the fourth quarter of 2015. Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) increased 38% to $181.5 million.
The results come as CEO Peter Liguori prepares to step down this month and as rival Sinclair Broadcast Group reportedly has approached Tribune about a combination. A merger would create by far the largest local broadcasting company in the U.S., and one predicated on the Trump Administration relaxing federal regulations that limit the scope of station groups.
In January, Tribune completed the sale of its Gracenote digital and data unit to Nielsen for $560 million in cash. The move followed the separation of legacy print businesses like the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times newspapers and the sale of some real estate, including Chicago's iconic Tribune Tower in a $240 million deal.
The exit of Liguori, a seasoned TV executive who helped launch the FX Network during a long tenure at Fox, comes after a four-year effort to restore the 170-year-old company's luster after a difficult bankruptcy. Board member Peter Kern, of private equity firm InterMedia Partners, will serve as interim CEO. In addition to hiving off print assets and unloading Gracenote, Liguori's tenure was marked by TV station acquisitions that made Tribune one of the top U.S. local broadcasters and the launch of cable channel WGN America, home to series such as the admired Underground.