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Belfast's Wireless Group hit by 10% profit plunge amid fall in radio revenue


Radio presenter: Edith Bowman

Radio presenter: Edith Bowman

Radio presenter: Edith Bowman

Belfast-based Wireless Group plc - the new name for UTV after the company sold off its TV assets - has reported a 10% 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 GB and across Ireland - from £82.4m to £75.1m.

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.

Wireless also 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 in Belfast, was rebranded as Wireless Group following ITV's £100m deal to buy Ulster Television and UTV Ireland from UTV Media plc.

Wireless Group chairman Richard 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."

Merrion Capital analyst Darren McKinley said UTV had started the year reviewing its radio assets with a view to a potential sale.

But plc was plunged into further difficulties as the year went on by the launch of TV channel UTV Ireland at the start of the year.

The company increased expected losses for the Ireland TV channel to £13m for the 11 months to the end of November - over four times its original estimate.

John McCann, Wireless Group chief executive and former chief executive of UTV Media plc, will retire from the job next month. He will be replaced by Richard Huntingford, who will take on the role of executive chairman.

Mr McKinley said Mr McCann had gone back on a plan to sell the radio assets.

"Post a continued struggle to profitability in UTV Ireland, exiting CEO John McCann reversed course once an offer of £100m was tabled for UTV's TV assets by ITV.

"Shareholders accepted the offer and the group renewed its focus on growing the business through wireless radio assets.

"UTV's discontinuing assets recorded a loss of over £5m in 2015, suggesting that UTV Ireland's struggle continued into the second half, eating into the UTV London and Northern Ireland division's profits."

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

The Wireless Group has also launched new digital stations, talkRADIO, talkSPORT2 and Virgin Radio. Edith Bowman presents a breakfast show on Virgin while controversial politician and Brexit campaigner George Galloway and Paul Ross - brother of ITV chat show host Jonathan - joined talkRADIO.

Merrion Capital said the channels "are expected to make losses of £3.6m in 2016, break even in 2017 and become profitable in 2018".

Belfast Telegraph