Friday 24 May 2019

Chair of INM buyer Mediahuis says scale 'more important' in digital future

Among the titles published by INM in Ireland are the Herald, Sunday World, the Irish Independent and the Sunday Independent
Among the titles published by INM in Ireland are the Herald, Sunday World, the Irish Independent and the Sunday Independent
Samantha McCaughren

Samantha McCaughren

When Belgian/Dutch media group Mediahuis swooped in to agree a €145.6m deal to buy Independent News & Media (INM) last week, some European international media read it as the company's first strategic foray into the English-language market.

Brussels-based business newspaper De Tijd, owned by a competitor group Mediafin, proclaimed that Mediahuis was "arming" itself for the internationalisation of media with the INM acquisition. Mediahuis CEO Gert Ysebaert told De Tijd: "The media sector is becoming increasingly international, with competition from major technology platforms. In that digital world it is an asset to also publish in English."

Mediahuis's NRC Handelsblad in the Netherlands focused on how the new buyers of INM, publisher of the Sunday Independent and other titles, would be tasked with leading the group into a digital age.

"Where many Dutch newspapers have digital subscriptions and, for example, invest in video and podcast, the Irish still strongly believe in the power of paper," reported the Dutch title.

Speaking at a briefing to Irish media just hours after it was announced that businessmen Denis O'Brien and Dermot Desmond had agreed to sell their stakes totalling 45pc of INM to the Belgian company, Ysebaert and chairman Thomas Leysen said creating a business of scale was a key motivator for the deal.

"We know that we are facing challenging times in the media industry. However, we have also demonstrated for the last couple of years that we believe if you do it really right, you have maximum professionalism in the business on the operations side, the commercial side, on technological side increasingly you can make this a viable business for the future," he said. "Another (core belief) is one is that scale is getting more important."

Whatever the motivation, Mediahuis is taking a long view on its investment in Irish media.

Leysen was eager to highlight the group's long-running involvement in publishing, in addition to a commitment to journalism.

"My father, when Belgium's leading quality newspaper 45 years ago went bankrupt, he stepped forward with a group of other people to rescue such an important title at the time," Leysen said last week. Other shareholders in the company have been publishers for 120 years.

"Mediahuis is really about journalism. It is a company that really believes in the importance of independent media and if you talk to anyone in Belgium you will hopefully get that confirmed, that we are in it for the long-term," he said.

The company also has some classified businesses in areas such as recruitment, dating and property. These account for around 10pc of revenues, which were €819m for the group last year.

Ysebaert outlined three beliefs the business has about media: "That we keep investing in strong journalism, in quality journalism, in independent journalism in our strong brands; that we believe we have to join forces to stay competitive in this whole new environment, competing with new tech platforms: and thirdly, that we invest to be the best in class in the digital transformation of the business."

A JP Morgan adviser attended the briefing last Tuesday, indicating to Leysen and Ysebaert what they could and could not say on a range of issues, with Leysen declining to comment on the ODCE investigation into a data breach at the company. He also declined to give much insight into Mediahuis's plans for INM. He did indicate, however, that a priority for Mediahuis would be to accelerate a digital transformation already under way at INM. The deal is expected to conclude in the autumn.

Sunday Indo Business

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