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Trinity Mirror looks to expand UK tabloid empire

Deal would involve Trinity Mirror taking over right-wing publications like The Daily Express

Gulf News

London: The publisher of The Daily Mirror, a left-wing tabloid in Britain, said on Friday that it was negotiating to acquire the print assets of the Northern & Shell Media Group, in what would be a major shake-up of the country’s fiercely competitive newspaper market, bringing together outlets on opposite ends of the political spectrum.

If completed, the sale would also mean the exit from the news media industry of Richard Desmond, Northern & Shell’s colourful chairman and founder, a billionaire who made his money in adult and celebrity magazines.

The deal would involve Trinity Mirror, whose Daily Mirror is Britain’s best-selling left-wing newspaper, taking over right-wing publications like The Daily Express. Trinity Mirror publishes more than 150 newspapers in Britain and Ireland, including the Manchester Evening News, and the purchase would see it add a raft of other publications to that list, from the celebrity magazines OK!, New! and Star to newspapers like The Sunday Express, The Daily Star and The Daily Star Sunday.

Trinity Mirror had shown interest in Northern & Shell’s newspaper brands as recently as two years ago, but it did not reach a deal at that time. Instead, Trinity Mirror acquired newspaper publisher Local World Holdings in November 2015 for £187.4 million (Dh907.18 million), or about $245 million at current exchange rates, including debt.

Trinity Mirror said in January that it was in early-stage talks to acquire a minority stake in a new company that would include assets of Northern & Shell, but its latest announcement said those discussions had ceased.

Northern & Shell sold British television broadcaster Channel 5 to Viacom in 2014 for £450 million. Northern & Shell bought Channel 5 in 2010.

The discussions come as newspapers have struggled with falling circulation and declining print advertising, and with publishers looking to control costs.

The struggles of print publishers have been acutely felt in Britain in recent years, particularly as the industry grapples with years of financial losses and the damage to its reputation after a phone-hacking scandal that exposed the darker practices of some corners of the tabloid news media.

Two years ago, the Crown Prosecution Service ended its investigation into the scandal, in which journalists illegally listened to voicemail messages and bribed police officers. Officials said that they had brought 12 prosecutions and secured nine convictions during the four-year inquiry.

Commercial concerns have also weighed on Britain’s vibrant, and often freewheeling, newspaper culture.

Thirty years after shaking up the media establishment in Britain, the Independent and the Independent on Sunday, left-wing broadsheets, said last year that they would cease publishing their physical editions and would be available only online.

The Independent had seen its circulation decline from 400,000 papers a day in the 1980s to just over 40,000 before it stopped printing.

The Guardian Media Group, publisher of the left-of-centre newspapers The Guardian and the Observer, said in January 2016 that it would seek to cut costs by 20 per cent in hopes of breaking even within three years. The company said that the need to reduce costs came amid a decline in print advertising, coupled with digital revenue not growing at a rate to offset those losses and heavy costs from its international expansion.

Trinity Mirror has not been spared the financial pressure.

In July, the company said that it had accelerated its cost cutting and expected to achieve £20 million in savings over the year. It said at the time that its revenue had fallen more than 14 per cent in the first six months of 2017, compared with the same period a year earlier.

In the past five years, weekday circulation at its flagship Daily Mirror has dropped by 42 per cent to 625,278 in July, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulation, an industry monitor.

The Daily Star and The Daily Express have also seen severe declines in their print readership.

Circulation at The Daily Star was 421,812 in July, down almost a third from 2012, according to the audit bureau, while The Daily Express has seen circulation decline 31 per cent over the past five years, selling 380,632 a day in July.

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