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Can Seven West Media Ltd make a comeback?

The past 10 years have been hard on Seven West Media Ltd (ASX: SWM) shareholders who have watched their stock plunge from above $11 in late November 2007 to close on Thursday at 63 cents.

But can the media company turn things around? Or should shareholders walk away?

There was a time when newspapers were practically printing money, an era when the lucrative classified pages were known as ‘rivers of gold’ by gleeful publishers.

Then the rivers ran dry as out-of-touch management failed to adapt to something called the internet and many media organisations embarked on a process of haemorrhaging cash.

The solution for many was cutting costs which diminished products and pushed customers away.

So it was perhaps no surprise to Seven West’s shareholders when Chairman Kerry Stokes echoed a familiar line across the industry at the company’s AGM.

“This has been a tough twelve months for media companies,” Mr Stokes said.

In financial year (FY) 2017 Seven West, with a market value of $950 million, reported a statutory net loss of $766 million on revenues of $1.68 billion.

It also reported its operating cash flow, before interest and tax, had decreased from $274.7 million for FY 2016 to $226.9 million, down by about 17%.

And the company’s net debt increased by 1.4% in FY 2017 to $725.7 million.

All this as dividends continue to diminish.

Seven West’s core businesses are the Seven television network, which accounted for 76% of the group’s revenue, and The West Australian newspaper, chipping in 13% of revenue.

While Seven’s revenue contribution to the group grew by 3% in FY 2017 from FY 2016’s figure and The West Australian’s revenue input remained flat, the group’s other businesses reported that their revenues declined as overall contributions to Seven West’s total revenue.

Notably, The West Australian collected $127.8 million from advertising for FY 2017, a decrease of 11.9% on 2016’s figure, while generating $59.4 million from print and digital circulation, an increase of 6.3% on the previous year.

Those figures demonstrate that The West Australian is becoming less reliant on advertising and is perhaps starting to follow other newspapers who have managed to turn things around by cashing in on opportunities offered by digital subscriptions.

And while Seven West has played down talk of a merger with Prime Media Group Limited (ASX: PRT), its acquisition of the Sunday Times newspaper and the Perth Now website from News Corp (ASX: NWS) gives the company a monopoly on mainstream newspapers in Western Australia and significantly boosts its online presence in the state.

All this means Seven West Media has great potential, particularly in Western Australia, which has yet to be realised.

While I certainly won’t be investing in Seven West Media anytime soon, I will watch how management steers the company to see if Seven West becomes a viable investment option to be considered down the track.

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