UPDATE 3-New York Times adds record subscriptions in news-heavy 2020

(Rewrites throughout, adds CEO comment, background on subscription)

Feb 4 (Reuters) - The New York Times Co said on Thursday it ended 2020 with record subscriptions, as readership soared in a year that was dominated by news coverage around a series of tightly fought U.S. elections, social unrest and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The publication, which has seen its readership grow throughout former U.S. President Donald Trump’s term, said the news cycle will change and audience will fluctuate. It had 7.5 million subscriptions at the end of the year, much higher than 5.25 million at end-2019.

“During (the) election week, 273 million global readers came to the Times, nearly doubling our previous weekly record,” Chief Executive Officer Meredith Kopit Levien said on a conference call.

“We regard 2020 as an outlier year for net subscription additions,” Levien added.

The 169-year-old company’s shares, which jumped 61% in 2020, rose about 1% after its earnings surpassed analysts’ expectations.

The Times has grown its digital business in recent years by pumping its digital products with a rich lineup of news, podcasts, crosswords and cooking recipes, seasoned with crisp images and videos.

“Our work, which was consumed at historic levels, led to a year of strong business results, including a record 2.3 million net new digital-only subscription additions,” Levien said in a statement.

However, advertising revenue fell 18.7% to $139.27 million in the fourth quarter, as print ad revenues plummeted, largely due to the pandemic.

The company’s total revenue rose marginally to $509.36 million, above analysts’ estimates of $498.3 million, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Excluding items, the company earned 40 cents per share, beating estimates of 35 cents. (Reporting by Eva Mathews and Subrat Patnaik in Bengaluru; Editing by Maju Samuel)