Saturday 26 May 2018

Wireless still tuned to its Irish stations

Wireless Group sold off its UTV television arm last year
Wireless Group sold off its UTV television arm last year

Donal O'Donovan and Margaret Canning

BELFAST-BASED Wireless Group said it has no plans for further asset disposals after selling off its UTV television arm last year.

Wireless, the new name for UTV after the sale, has reported a 10pc fall in pre-tax profits to £10.7m for 2015.

Revenue for the whole of 2015 was also down at the firm - which owns 23 radio stations in the UK and Ireland - from £82.4m to £75.1m on a like-for-like basis.

Analysts said radio revenue for 2015 had slumped as the previous year had received a boost from the World Cup. But the company had also gained £6.9m from selling its Liverpool station Juice FM.

The latest results provide a new base for the business after what was a "busy year for the group", executive chairman Richard Huntingford said.

After selling £110m of assets in a matter of months further major disposals are not on the cards, he said. "We're very happy with the shape of the group today," he said.

The Republic of Ireland radio business, which contributes about 25pc of revenue, was squeezed by competitive pressures as operators invested to take advantage the economic bounce back here, Wireless said.

Ultimately sales picked up less quickly than the recovery had led management to expect last year, it said. The experience of the advertising market has been more encouraging in 2016, Richard Huntingford said.

In its full-year results Wireless posted a loss after tax on discounted items, which includes UTV Ireland, of £5.3m for the year.

The portfolio of 22 radio stations, including U105 and 96fm in Cork in Belfast, was rebranded as Wireless Group following ITV's £100m deal to buy Ulster Television and UTV Ireland from UTV Media plc.

The TV business was sold after losses mounted at its newly launched UTV Ireland business.

Mr Huntingford said the firm has "an exciting future" as a radio-based business.

"We are targeting double-digit profit growth over the medium term, which should deliver both significant income and capital growth for shareholders over the coming years," Mr Huntingford said.

During the year, the company returned £55m of cash to its shareholders following the UTV sale.

The Wireless Group has also launched new UK digital stations, talkRADIO, talkSPORT2 and Virgin Radio.

Former BBC Radio 1 DJ Edith Bowman presents a breakfast show on Virgin while controversial politician George Galloway joined talkRADIO.

It will keep a "watchful" look at any new licences that come available in Ireland, chief operating officer Scott Taunton said.

Irish Independent

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