FT CEO says improving ad trend continues

By Georgina Prodhan

LONDON (BestGrowthStock) – The Financial Times has seen a positive trend in advertising sales continue into the current quarter, its chief executive said, a day after parent Pearson (PSON.L: ) reported forecast-beating results.

“The improving trend of last year has continued into the first quarter, but the outlook remains very short-term,” John Ridding told Reuters in a telephone interview.

Pearson shares fell 0.8 percent to 947.5 pence by 1107 GMT, one of the weakest performers in the European media index (.SXMP: ). They had risen to an eight-year high on Monday.

Pearson said on Monday it expected to see some stabilization in advertising revenues at FT Publishing — the unit that contains the Financial Times newspaper, FT.com, half of The Economist and other publications.

But it said advertising sales, which the education-focused group has whittled down to 3 percent of total revenues, remained highly unpredictable.

FT Publishing reported a 12 percent fall in 2009 sales to 358 million pounds ($533 million) and a 42 percent drop in adjusted operating profit to 39 million pounds.

Still, the Financial Times and FT.com are unusual among European peers in that they are profitable, thanks largely to strong subscription and circulation revenues that are now larger than advertising revenues.

The FT is also one of the few newspapers currently to charge for its content on the Web — although many others are mulling such a move.

It disputes a commonly held assumption that there is a necessary trade-off between advertising and subscription revenue, saying that subscribers can be better targeted and so are more valuable that undifferentiated mass audiences.

“The audience information that we’ve developed in having a registration/subscriber model is tremendously powerful. Content revenues are valuable and help complement and offset volatile advertising revenues,” Ridding said.

FT.com had 1.9 million registered users as of last month, and 126,000 digital subscribers, up 15 percent year-on-year.

It plans to experiment this year with other ways of charging for online content, including selling daily and weekly passes, and charging per article.

When asked whether the FT.com would consider selling its articles through a wider portal including other publishers, Ridding said: “We’re open to whatever works for the reader, subject to two principles: Pricing should remain with us, and the audience relationship remains with us.”

Ridding said the FT was still managing to stick to its rate card for advertising sales, although it would probably have to get used to the fact that bookings would remain last-minute.

“The booking cycle is very short. It can be a matter of just weeks or months where it used to be a matter of a quarter or six months ahead. It may just be the new reality,” he said.

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(editing by Andrew Callus)

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FT CEO says improving ad trend continues