E.W. Scripps ( SSP) investors are hoping to write a different script as the publisher's media peers plunge into the abyss. Cincinnati-based Scripps has worked hard to stay above the fray in recent years, pushing heavily into cable and other fast-growing areas as many of its peers remained landlocked in the shrinking print-publication business. As a result, Scripps has been spared much of the negativity Wall Street has heaped on rivals like Tribune ( TRB) and New York Times ( NYT). But Scripps has hardly soared. Its shares are down 12% this year, and the stock has hit 52-week lows four times in the last week. On Monday morning, Scripps fans will get a chance to check financial progress at the operator of the Food Network and HGTV. Analysts polled by Thomson Financial will be looking for the company to earn 60 cents per share on $652.7 million in revenue. Numbers will get close scrutiny because cable results, in particular, could weaken somewhat, thanks to softening market conditions. Merrill Lynch analyst Lauren Rich Fine wrote recently that Scripps' second-quarter call "should be of particular interest as we look for color on current cable upfront negotiations." Fine continues, "We suspect they will have to lower their FY06 cable networks revenue outlook." Merrill Lynch makes a market in Scripps. Reports have noted that, overall, the cable upfront ad-sales season appears weak, which suggests some networks may take rate hits. Fine believes that Scripps' niche networks "will fare better than the average, as has been the case historically." But she acknowledges that broadcast upfront-rate increases at Disney's ( DIS) ABC will likely cap pricing at Scripps cable enterprises. On the other hand, even-numbered years such as this one are supposed to yield better gains for local media holders, who can see incremental ad dollars from political races. Scripps could benefit from that factor. In addition, the company has been fairly shrewd regarding interactive investments. It owns Shopzilla, a popular online shopping search engine, which is expected to yield double-digit gains this quarter.
In its statistical report for May, Scripps said that revenue at its networks was up 15% from a year ago. At the company's newspapers, however, revenue was down 2.8%. Local TV revenue was up a very respectable 9.8%. On Thursday, Scripps rose 4 cents to $42.27.