Market still testing for news group

Johnston Press cuts losses as restructuring continues


i newspaper April 11
First edition of the i under JP

Newspaper group Johnston Press reduced its losses as it continued to restructure the business.

The group, whose titles include The Scotsman, Yorkshire Post and Sheffield Star, reported growth in its digital activities, though it continues to see most progress in the ‘i’ newspaper.

The statutory loss before tax was down 68.4% from £300.7 million in 2016 to £95m on a fall in revenue from £222.7m to £201.6m, partly a result of selling 13 titles in the East Midlands.

Group advertising revenue was down 13.5%, (excluding classifieds down 4.0%), and circulation revenue was 4.9% lower.

Ashley Highfield, Chief Executive Officer, said: “Our vision remains constant – to be at the heart of our communities, providing accurate, relevant and timely news and information – free of proprietorial influence.

“And we continue to deliver on this, despite 2017 proving to be another tough year for the sector: We more than doubled profits at the i, with circulation revenue up 20% and advertising revenue up 27% (H2 ’17 v H2 ’16).

“We grew our digital traffic across the group by 19% and our digital audiences reached an all time high of 25.4m. We posted total adjusted revenue up 1.8% year on year, excluding classifieds, which in combination with maintaining operational excellence and reducing costs, achieved profits in line with expectations.”

Mr Highfield said the first quarter of 2018 has seen the group deliver increased adjusted EBITDA year on year, driven by the i’s continued strong performance, especially the relaunched Saturday edition, up 4% year on year in newspaper sales, and the focus on the largest cities and titles.

“We are pleased with the acceleration in growth from the i’s website which, having delivered sustained growth in 2017, has ramped up further in the first quarter of this year with unique users up 89% year on year,” he said.

“Across our regional portfolio of titles national print advertising tracked in line with prior year in the first quarter of 2018, with advertisers starting to increase spend in regional print.

“This trend is driven by a somewhat stronger overall advertising market, our ability to precisely target audiences using ‘big data’, and improving sentiment towards quality print publishers in the wake of the Fake News and social media trust concerns.” 

Mr Highfield said classified advertising remains weak, but is now a significantly smaller portion of the group accounting for just 13% of revenues in the quarter, following investment in digital and the i.

“Whilst operationally the business is performing well in challenging markets, addressing the Group’s capital structure remains a key priority,” he said.

“The Strategic Review of financing options is ongoing and discussions with our various stakeholders are progressing.  We will update on this matter as we progress through 2018.”

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