Mediaset Cuts Dividend as 2011 Profit Drops on Lower Revenue

Mediaset SpA, the broadcaster controlled by former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, cut its dividend after full-year profit dropped more than estimated by analysts on lower advertising sales.

Net income fell 36 percent to 225 million euros, the Milan-based company said in a statement today. Sales declined 1 percent to 4.25 billion euros. Analysts estimated net income of 250 million euros on sales of 4.28 billion euros, according to a Bloomberg survey.

Mediaset, which runs free-to-air and pay-TV channels that compete with the network of state-owned RAI SpA and Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Italia Srl, has been hit by declining advertising sales amid the European sovereign debt crisis. Italy and Spain, where the company controls Mediaset Espana Comunicacion SA, are both struggling with high debt and unemployment. The broadcaster today proposed a dividend of 0.10 euros per share compared with 0.35 euros a year earlier.

“The financial solidity of the company is the first priority,” Chief Financial Officer Marco Giordani said on a conference call today when asked about the dividend cut.

The company said it can’t make accurate predictions about the development of advertising sales this year because of the continuing economic uncertainty.

“The group’s results in 2011 obviously reflect the difficult international economic situation,” the company said. “The recessionary phase currently affecting both Italy and Spain is affecting the advertising market in both the geographic areas in which the Group operates.”

Rising Unemployment

Italy’s jobless rate rose to the highest in more than a decade in January as austerity measures meant to fight the debt crisis helped push the euro area’s third-largest economy into a recession. Unemployment increased to 9.2 in January, the highest since March 2001, from 8.9 percent in December, Rome-based national statistics institute Istat said in a March 1 report.

Mediaset said 2012 net income will be lower than last year’s if market conditions don’t improve. The company plans savings of 250 million euros by 2014 to reduce operating costs “in all major business areas.”

Total ad sales, which include domestic unit Publitalia, pay digital channels and video content on Mediaset’s website, dropped 3.3 percent to 2.77 billion euros in 2011. Revenue at pay-TV offering Premium rose 14 percent to 615.6 million euros.

Before the full-year earnings were announced, Mediaset rose 0.2 percent to 2.298 euros in Milan trading.

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