TM Drops A Bill

In its first earnings report under the helm of new CEO Irving Azoff, Ticketmaster Entertainment reported a $1.1 billion loss in the fourth quarter, stemming from a write-down charge reflecting a decline in the company’s stock price and current economic conditions.

The loss amounted to $18.82 per share for the quarter, the company reported March 19, representing a more than 80-percent decline in share price since last August’s spin-off from IAC/InterActiveCorp.

Earnings fell 81 percent to $9.9 million excluding the charge.

Citing strategic acquisitions, fourth-quarter revenues were up more than 9 percent from the previous year to $384 million, the company said.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters had reportedly expected average earnings of 29 cents per share and revenues of $378 million.

“Last year was a year of transition for Ticketmaster Entertainment, as it became an independently traded public company and entered the artist management business through the acquisition of a controlling interest in Front Line Management Group,” Azoff said in a statement.

“While I’m pleased that in the midst of an evolving music industry and a challenged consumer environment we were able to show substantial growth in free cash flow, we won’t be satisfied until we transform the company into the world’s most innovative live entertainment services, marketing and distribution organization, working harder on behalf of fans and the artists, athletes and performers.”

Free cash flow grew for the quarter to $49 million, up more than $60 million on the prior year.

The company reported the ticket sales volumes in the concert category dropped 26 percent during Q4 with declining Live Nation onsales late in the quarter and fewer large name tours during the period. Top sellers included Britney Spears, Jeff Dunham, AC/DC, Eagles and Nickelback.

The company took a hit from, taking a $5.8 million charge to write down the investment to its estimated fair value. Tickets for family shows also took a hit, facing a 16 percent decline during the quarter as a result of fewer offerings, TM said.

In a conference call with investors, TM executives addressed the challenges the company has faced in recent months, including the TicketsNow ticket debacle and global economic crisis.

Chairman Barry Diller lamented the company’s status as a “poster child for the ills of the industry,” and reiterated that TM technology continues to advance with the aim of making all aspects of the ticketing industry – primary and secondary – more transparent for consumers.

While executives declined to answer detailed questions regarding TM’s proposed merger with Live Nation, they said it will go to a shareholder vote this summer, pending the Department of Justice investigation.

Azoff remained hopeful regarding TM’s future, adding that the advance ticket sales for the summer have been trending higher.

“The business is doing better packaging, pricing is getting smarter,” he said. “We think it’s going to be a good year for music.”