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AP sees slight revenue decline in 2012

NEW YORK (AP) — The Associated Press said Monday that its revenue declined slightly in 2012 because U.S. elections and the Olympics drew less interest than expected, but it was largely successful in replacing lost revenue with increased sales of video and photos.

Revenue dropped 0.8 percent to $622.2 million last year from $627.6 million in 2011, the not-for-profit news cooperative said at its annual meeting on Monday.

The AP had a net loss of $25.6 million for 2012, down from a loss of $193.3 million the year before. The 2011 loss was mostly due to a non-cash charge of $168 million that was taken as a reserve against future tax benefits.

The AP is owned by 1,400 U.S. newspapers and is largely a wholesaler of news. It sells the content it gathers and produces to newspapers, commercial websites and radio and TV stations.

The AP expected revenue to rise as much as 2 percent in 2012 with help from the elections and the Summer Olympics in London, but Chief Financial Officer Ken Dale said the demand for news from these events was lower than in 2008. Barack Obama's second 

presidential campaign was not as dramatic as his first, and the London Olympics were easier for news outlets to cover than the 2008 games in Beijing, which meant many AP customers relied less on its services.

It was the fourth straight year of declining revenue for the AP, but the rate of decline has slowed sharply the last two years. The U.S. newspaper industry, which accounts for about 20 percent of AP revenue, has suffered from a loss of advertising dollars to online 

media. AP has cut the fees it charges newspapers for its content, but it hasn't been enough for some. A number of newspapers have ended their contracts with the AP, including the Chicago Tribune and six other newspapers owned by Tribune Co.

The big news events of 2012 saddled AP with extra costs at the same time it was upgrading its video equipment to high definition, forcing it to borrow. Paying off $19 million in debt is AP's highest priority, Dale said.

Still, cost controls helped keep the operating loss to $25.7 million in 2012, compared with $34.2 million in 2011.

Most of the expense decline was in payroll, which fell 6 percent through attrition. The AP ended the year with 3,259 employees, down from 3,473 a year earlier.

Dale said he expects revenue to decline again in 2013 because of the absence of elections and Olympics. He also said he expects costs to keep declining, leading to a big reduction in the 2013 operating loss.

The AP is offsetting the drop-off in newspaper revenue with new online customers and strong demand for images and video.

"We're pretty much backfilling any erosion we're seeing in newspapers," Dale said.

Also at the meeting on Tuesday, the AP board added three members, re-elected five and saw two leave. It now has 19 board members.

The new board members are Robert Brown, president of Swift Communications Inc.; Gracia C. Martore, president and CEO of Gannett Co.; and Terry J. Kroeger, president and CEO of BH Media Group, a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Last year also saw a change in AP's executive leadership. Tom Curley left the post of CEO in July after nine years and was replaced by Gary Pruitt, who had been CEO of The McClatchy Co.

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