Northcliffe records 90 per cent online revenue boost

Regional newspaper publisher Northcliffe has almost doubled its digital revenues in a year, according to parent company DMGT.

In a trading statement covering the last three months of 2007, the Daily Mail and General Trust said regional online revenues had increased by 90 per cent compared with the same period in 2006.

DMGT finance director Peter Williams told Press Gazette the company was beginning to reap the rewards of increased investment in the area.

“We’ve certainly done a lot in terms of rolling out job sites and property sites,” he said. “It’s really all happened in the last 12 months. We’ve put a lot more effort into the regional sites and we’re getting some reward for it.”

Overall revenues at DMGT between October 2007 and the end of the year were up two per cent compared with the same period in 2006. Operating profits were slightly down on last year because of the company’s investment in new colour printing presses at Didcot.

Associated Newspapers, publisher of the Mail titles, the Evening Standard and Metro, saw a two per cent rise in revenue to £250m. Circulation revenue remained stable, but there was a four per cent increase in advertising spending.

The company said the Mail on Sunday‘s relaunch in January has been met with an “encouraging” response from readers and advertisers. Whether this translates into increased circulation will become apparent on Friday, when the national newspaper ABCs for January are released.

In a reporters’ conference call, Williams said free morning paper Metro was beginning to see the benefits of increasing its distribution in the London suburbs. Evening freesheet London Lite, he said, was still loss-making. Revenues at the title were “picking up”, but it would be two to three years before it returns a profit.

“We’ve had a pretty good start to the year despite all the doom and gloom that’s around,” Williams said. “Taking one quarter alone is a very difficult thing to do in a business like ours – there’s a lot of seasonal factors.”

Like-for-like revenues at regional newspaper division Northcliffe were up 0.6 per cent to £105m, but Williams warned that a slowing down in the property advertising market could have a knock-on effect on the group, which receives around 20 per cent of its income from property ads.

Recruitment advertising in the regional press was the best-performing sector, with revenues up three per cent year-on-year. Motor advertising fell 12 per cent.

Asked about DMGT’s decision to write off its investment in price comparison website SimplySwitch and enter a consultation period with affected staff, Williams said: “Inevitably in a portfolio the size we have there are small businesses that are not doing well.

“We’ve invested in a lot of different sectors. We were never going to get them all right. I think we got the utilities business wrong, so we’re putting a line under it.”

Today’s update comes ahead of DMGT’s half-year results, which are due to be released at the end of May.

DMGT chairman Viscount Rothermere said the group had not yet seen any knock-on effects from the uncertainty in the financial markets.

“It is too early to predict the outcome of the full year, but we are pleased with the start the group has made to the financial year,” he said.

“Most of our businesses continue to perform well, and above our expectations, despite the troubles in the financial and property markets.”

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