Media conglomerate Viacom ( VIA) swung to a loss in the fourth quarter amid a severe advertising downturn, but still posted results that were slightly ahead of analysts' expectations.

The company's radio and publishing arms weighed on the fourth-quarter results, offset somewhat by gains in cable television and video.

The owner of CBS, UPN, MTV, Paramount Pictures, Simon & Schuster and Blockbuster lost $140 million, or 8 cents a share, before items on revenue of $6.04 billion for the quarter. Analysts polled by First Call were predicting a loss of 11 cents a share on revenue of $5.95 billion.

Viacom had free cash flow of $1.38 billion, or 77 cents a share, in the quarter, up from $942 million, or 61 cents a share, a year ago. Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization were $1.06 billion in the latest quarter, compared with $1.36 billion a year ago, and pro forma EBITDA, a key metric for the industry, was $1.22 billion in the latest quarter compared with $1.35 billion a year ago.

The company predicted double-digit pro forma EBITDA growth for the full year 2002. "While economic trends in the first quarter of 2002 continue to mirror the soft conditions experienced in the fourth quarter of 2001, the company believes there is potential to outperform its current 2002 projection should the economic climate improve materially," Viacom said in a statement.

Among its segments, revenue in Viacom's cable operations fell 3% to $1.16 billion; it rose 2% in television to $2.01 billion; fell 12% in its Infinity radio operations to $938.9 million; rose 12% in its movie and parks segment to $785.4 million; rose 1% to $1.36 billion in its video segment; and rose 6% in its publishing unit to $193.8 million.

The company's cable and video units both posted 15% growth in pro forma EBITDA, while pro forma EBITDA fell by 20% at Infinity and 15% at the publishing unit.

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