Beasley Broadcast Group today announced operating results for the three-month and twelve-month periods ended December 31, 2018.
The $17.0 million, or 29.1%, year-over-year increase in net revenue during the three months ended December 31, 2018, reflects year-over-year revenue increases at ten of the Company’s thirteen market clusters compared to the same period of 2017 and the inclusion of WBZ-FM Boston and WXTU-FM Philadelphia, partially offset by the disposition of WMJX-FM Boston.
Beasley reported operating income of $13.9 million in the fourth quarter of 2018 compared to operating income of $23.3 million in the fourth quarter of 2017. The year-over-year decrease in operating income reflects a net benefit of $13.9 million in the fourth quarter of 2017 related to change in fair value of contingent consideration and gain on exchange in connection with the acquisition of Greater Media, Inc. (“Greater Media”) and the related sale of Greater Media’s tower assets, which net benefit was partially offset by certain transaction and other operating expenses.
The decline in 2018 fourth quarter net income primarily reflects the lower operating income during the period and a $62.2 million year-over-year net increase in income tax expense as the Company recorded a $59.7 million deferred income tax benefit in the 2017 fourth quarter due to a reduction in the federal tax rate following the enactment of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and a revaluation of deferred tax assets and liabilities using the new rate. As a result, net income for the 2018 fourth quarter was $2.1 million, or $0.08 per diluted share. Station Operating Income (SOI, a non-GAAP financial measure) rose $5.6 million or 37.2% year-over-year in the fourth quarter of 2018 to $20.6 million. The year-over-year increase reflects the net revenue growth during the period which more than offset a 26.3% year-over-year rise in station operating expenses related to the Company’s expanded platform.
Commenting on the financial results, Caroline Beasley, Chief Executive Officer, said, “Our record 2018 fourth quarter and full year revenue and strong operating results, despite the benefit of non-cash transaction related and tax items in the 2017 period, highlight the value being created as we execute strategies to expand our scale, diversify our revenue mix and leverage the value of our local brands in our core and ancillary verticals. Actual fourth quarter revenue rose by 29.1% on a year-over-year basis driven by net revenue increases at ten of our clusters, recent acquisitions and station swaps and approximately $3.9 million of fourth quarter gross political revenue. While we remain focused on diversifying our operating base, our fourth quarter pro-forma revenue rose an impressive 9.9%. Fourth quarter net income declined from 2017 levels solely because of gains and tax benefits in the year-ago period that did not recur in the 2018 fourth quarter.
The value of our ongoing strategies to transform Beasley Broadcast Group into a diversified, multi-media company is best highlighted by our growing free cash flow. Beasley’s 2018 fourth quarter free cash flow increased 33.9%, to $8.6 million over the same period in 2017, while 2018 full year free cash flow increased 12.8% over full year 2017 levels. Notably, since implementing our initiatives to broaden and diversify our reach, scale, revenue and free cash flow through transactions and investments, our free cash flow rose from $14.9 million in 2015, the last full year prior to completing the Greater Media transaction, to $25.5 million in 2018, marking a compound annual growth rate of approximately 20% over this period.
Throughout 2018, we continued to execute on our integration strategy focused on premium local programming to support our goals of ratings and market leadership at acquired stations, while remaining opportunistic in further building our scale and revenue diversification to drive growth and SOI margin expansion. Our strong free cash growth has enabled us to complete strategic investments in our broadcast, digital, technology and other platforms, reduce leverage and pay cash dividends to shareholders. During the year, we completed the strategically complementary and accretive acquisition of WXTU-FM which has significantly strengthened our competitive position and revenue share in the Philadelphia market. We also completed several smaller acquisitions including a Tampa-based event company and a nationally syndicated esports show and podcast in separate transactions that were funded with cash on hand.
Our 2018 and recent initiatives reflect Beasley’s disciplined approach to growing our platform, content portfolio and distribution by identifying and completing transactions where we can drive revenue and cost synergies, and further strengthen SOI margins, with a limited impact on our leverage. During the year, we successfully launched phase two of our mobile apps and our data attribution initiative, ‘Beasley Analytics,’ in all our markets as well as BPod Studios which distributes compelling on-demand audio and original podcast content. These initiatives reflect our commitment to deliver great content to our listeners anywhere, any time, on any device, while further demonstrating to advertisers the incredible value of radio advertising. We believe the attribution data derived from Beasley Analytics will strengthen our terrestrial audio business given its unrivalled confirmation of how radio drives significant visitation to advertisers’ websites.
With our disciplined approach to the management of our capital structure, Beasley remains committed to enhancing shareholder value through capital returns and leverage reduction. During the fourth quarter, we paid our twenty first consecutive quarterly cash dividend.
Given our strong balance sheet, we believe Beasley has a solid foundation to continue pursuing a range of near- and long-term growth opportunities that create new value for our listeners, advertisers and shareholders. Our platform, market position, ratings and content are strong, and as the number one reach medium, we remain confident in the radio industry’s future and believe that Beasley’s ongoing initiatives to expand, diversify, and drive sales and efficiency across our platform, combined with prudent management of our capital structure, is a proven strategy for sustained long term growth and the enhancement of shareholder value.”