Tuesday 21 January 2020

Former UTV Ireland owner suffered ad fall in Brexit run-up

Parent company sold UTV Ireland in the Republic to ITV
Parent company sold UTV Ireland in the Republic to ITV

Margaret Canning

THE run-up to Brexit led to a fall in advertising at the former UTV local radio stations, the chairman of Belfast-based Wireless Group plc has said.

But the company said it was unclear what impact the vote to leave the EU would have in the "all important" quarter four.

Wireless - which owns 22 radio stations including U105 in Belfast and talkSPORT - said in June it was to be sold to News Corp for £220m (€255m).

Profits were down 11pc to £4.5m in the six months to June 2016, according to interims yesterday. The company is what remains of UTV Media plc after UTV sold its TV division, including UTV Ireland in the Republic, to ITV for £100m.

According to the interim results, that deal left Wireless with a profit on disposal of £79.2m.

Revenue over the six months was up more than 7pc at its Radio GB arm to £27.6m, while revenue at its Irish radio stations also rose 1pc slightly to £8.9m.

But the performance of its local radio assets was hit by an advertising slowdown in the UK and Ireland during the second quarter. And there was no dividend following the offer from News Corp, which won shareholder approval last week.

Chairman Richard Huntingford said: "In our local stations and in Ireland, advertising trends were softer as we moved towards the referendum in the second quarter.

"Whilst it is still unclear what impact the uncertainty created by Brexit might have on advertising revenues in the all-important quarter four, including in Ireland, the group currently anticipates a full-year out-turn broadly in rise with expectations."

The group's cash cow, talkSPORT, enjoyed a strong performance in the six months, helped by Euro 2016, while it has also won new Premier League audio rights. According to figures for the second quarter, talkSPORT now has 3.3 million listeners a week. Mr Huntingford said Wireless Group plc was a "profitable business - with a strong balance sheet - that owns and operates valuable brands that attract a loyal audiences".

The company has also launched new digital stations talkSPORT2 and talkRADIO, as well as relaunching Virgin Radio. Mr Huntingford said: "Wireless Group - and especially talkSPORT - has performed well in the first six months of the year. After a competitive bidding process, we were also delighted to be awarded three packages for Premier League live audio rights, which will further underpin the future outlook for talkSPORT."

Irish Independent

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