John­ston Pressh­hail ls ‘‘mile­stone’ first half as rev­enues in­crease

Publisher of the Peter­bor­ough Tele­graph pub­lishes re­sults for first half of 2017

The Peterborough Evening Telegraph - - BUSINESS -

News­pa­per publisher John­ston Press this week hailed a strong half-year per­for­mance in­clud­ing a dou­ble-digit hike in­dig­i­ta­l­ad­ver­tis­in­grev­enues and au­di­ence num­bers.

The owner of this news­pa­per, hun­dreds of lo­cal ti­tles, news web­sites and na­tional news­pa­per The i, re­ported 4.6 per cent rise in over­all rev­enues, ex­clud­ing clas­si­fieds, for the 26 weeks to 1 July.

Dig­i­tal advertising rev­enues jumped by 14.8 per cent, ex­clud­ing­clas­si­fieds,year-onyear, while dig­i­tal au­di­ences grew 15 per cent to a record high of 26.5 mil­lion unique users a month.

The group also high­lighted an in­creased con­tri­bu­tion from The i news­pa­per, which it ac­quired in April last year, with cir­cu­la­tion rev­enue ris­ing from £4.4 mil­lion to £11m an­dad­ver­tis­in­grev­enues­from un­der £1m to £3m.

Ad­ver­tis­in­grev­enueswere flat for the pe­riod – print and dig­i­tal com­bined and ex­clud­ing clas­si­fieds – hav­ing ex­pe­ri­enced “heavy de­clines” dur­ing 2016.

The group re­ported an op­er­at­ing profit for the pe­riod of £4.9m, com­pared with a hal­fyear loss of £211.7m last year when there were ma­jor write­downs. Chief ex­ec­u­tive Ash­ley High­field said that to get to the point where print and dig­i­ta­l­ad­ver­tis­ing­tak­en­to­gether, an­dex­clud­ing­clas­si­fieds,were flat rather than in de­cline was “are­al­ly­im­por­tant­mile­stone” and “a hell of an achieve­ment”.

The group said its fo­cus on larger ti­tles that have “sig­nif­i­cant” print and dig­i­tal reach had re­sulted in strong profit con­tri­bu­tions led by the na­tional-cat­e­gory ti­tles, in­clud­ing The Scots­man and The York­shire Post.

The firm cau­tioned that trad­ing con­di­tions across the in­dus­try con­tin­ued to be “dif­fi­cult”, es­pe­cially in clas­si­fied advertising, but added that it was see­ing the mon­eti­sa­tion of its grow­ing dig­i­tal au­di­ence gain mo­men­tum.

The con­tin­u­ing im­prove­ments in trad­ing trend seen in The i news­pa­per in the first half are ex­pected to con­tinue in the sec­ond half “as ad­ver­tis­ers seek out a qual­ity, im­par­tial, con­cise, daily na­tional news provider”.

Ac­cord­ing to the lat­est re­sults, the group had to­tal cash of£28.8ma­sof1July,whilenet debt was down by 8.7 per cent dur­ing the pe­riod.

High­field said John­ston Press had no plans to make sig­nif­i­cant as­set sales in the com­ing year.

“We have got no plans to make any sig­nif­i­cant di­vest­ments at the mo­ment,” he said.

“Wew­erevery­pleased­with the di­vest­ments we made last year in terms of the sale prices of Isle of Man and East Mid­lands ti­tles.

“We put the money in the bank and are in a sound po­si­tion.”

He added: “I can never rule out that we might do some­thing with one or two smaller ti­tles. But I gen­uinely have no plans at the mo­ment.”

High­field said the strong per­for­mance from The i, with its suc­cinct for­mat, was partly due to many readers “be­ing time-poor but they still want a qual­ity ex­pe­ri­ence”.

He said the pa­per had also ben­e­fited from what was seen as a UK gen­eral elec­tion re­sult show­ing the elec­torate “don’t re­ally like to be told what to think”.

Group net debt has come down from £209.4m to £191.2m at the re­port­ing pe­riod end.

High­field told in­vestors: “This is a business which we have long be­lieved needed to trans­form, but once done, could re­turn to growth.

“Thus, since 2012 we have been mak­ing the nec­es­sary and at times painful changes to trans­form John­ston Press into a truly cross-plat­form business.

“Whilst trad­ing re­mains chal­leng­ing, the business has re­sponded and,as a re­sult of our sub­stan­tial ef­forts and clear strate­gic fo­cus, I am very pleased to an­nounce that we have­post­e­drev­enue­growthin the business (ex­clud­ing clas­si­fieds) of 4.6 per cent dur­ing the half.”

Ash­ley High­field

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