OFT approves Northcliffe's Nottingham Topper bid

Northcliffe Media‘s proposed acquisition of one of the UK’s biggest free weeklies has been the given the go-ahead by the Office of Fair Trading.

The regional publisher announced its intention to buy the Nottingham and Long Eaton Topper last summer, but as it already owns the daily Nottingham Post the bid was referred to the OFT.

It found that while the acquisition would give Northcliffe a ‘high combined share’of local news in the region there was ‘sufficient evidence that other competitive restraints would protect customers from price increases or reductions in quality”.

Northcliffe chief executive Steve Auckland said it was a ‘landmark’decision for the local press industry, adding: ‘The Topper will make an excellent addition to the Nottingham Post Media Group and provide an excellent portfolio with the Post for advertisers seeking to attract consumers in Nottingham.”

Northcliffe signalled its intention to acquire the Topper, which has an average weekly circulation of 212,324, after closing its free weekly series of the Nottingham Recorder, the Nottingham & Long Eaton Recorder and the Mansfield & Ashfield Recorder.

The closures left the Topper as the only free weekly in the region.

Commenting on today’s decision, the director of Topper Newspapers said: ‘I welcome this decision. The merged group will be much better-placed to serve the Nottingham business community”.

In its adjudication the OFT said: ‘In Nottingham, the merging parties had high combined market shares in the supply of local newspapers.

‘However, the OFT found that a number of factors, taken in the round, meant that advertisers would be protected against price increases or reductions in quality.

‘These factors included: the fact that some advertisers, either directly or through advertising agencies, procure advertising space across many different local areas or regions, giving them the opportunity to compare prices across different media channels and geographic areas; some segments of advertisers would continue to have online alternatives such as property or motors websites; and some advertisers were able to self-supply through distributing printed literature direct to homes, as an alternative to newspaper advertising.

‘In addition, all types of advertisers may be protected by the two-sided nature of the market, meaning that that the merged entity would need to take into account the impact on advertisers, on the one hand, and on readers, on the other, when taking pricing or other business decisions (referred to as indirect network effects).

‘Taking all this evidence in the round, the OFT concluded that the proposed merger would not raise substantial competition concerns.”

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