Belfast Telegraph

Ex-UTV local radio sees dip in sales before vote on EU

By 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 - announced in June it was to be sold to The Sun owners News Corp for £220m.

Profits in the first six months of the year were down 11% 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 7% at its Radio GB arm to £27.6m, while revenue at its Irish radio stations also rose 1% slightly to £8.9m.

But the performance of its local radio assets was hit by an advertising slowdown in the both the UK and Ireland during the second quarter of this year.

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."

However, the group's cash cow talkSPORT enjoyed a strong performance in the six months, helped by the European Football Championships, while it has also won new Premier League audio rights. According to the RAJAR 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."

He that said recent listenership figures from RAJAR in the UK and JNLR in the Republic "demonstrate the strength of the group's ongoing brands in its key markets".

Northern Ireland personality Colin Murray resigned as a talkSPORT host following the purchase by News Corp, objecting to its links to The Sun. Murray will present his last show on September 2.

Belfast Telegraph