Mediahuis, the owner of Belfast Telegraph publisher Independent News & Media, generated a profit of just under €60m (£51.8m)last year and cut debt, despite the impact of the Covid pandemic.
Financial results for 2020 show one-in-three subscriptions across the group’s titles in Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Ireland is now a digital product, in many cases combined with a weekend newspaper.
In Northern Ireland, Belfasttelegraph.co.uk secured an average of more than 211,000 readers every day, with Independent.ie reaching about 800,000 people.
The total number of subscribers in the group exceeded 1.7 million at year end as a result of an 11% like-for-like increase plus the impact of acquisitions. The year saw the launch of paid digital subscription products for Independent.ie and The Belfast Telegraph.
Mediahuis’ consolidated turnover in 2020 was €990.5m (£855.2m), generating earnings of €171.5m (£148m) and a net profit of €58.6m (£50.6m).
Last year was the first to include a full year of Irish results following the acquisition of INM, including Belfast Telegraph, Sunday Life, nijobfinder.co.uk, independent.ie, the Irish Independent and Sunday World in 2019.
“Though the Covid-19 pandemic caused a significant impact on advertising turnover, the group achieved rock-solid results in readership income,” the company said.
Mediahuis Group CEO Gert Ysebaert said steps taken in recent years in the area of digital transformation had boosted the ability to respond when the Covid19 crisis struck.
“The resilience and agility of our organisation were severely tested. But Mediahuis passed the test with flying colours,” he said.
The number of visitors to our news sites and apps went through the roof and the number of listeners to our podcasts also grew exponentially, a strong digital growth that led to an unprecedented increase in subscribers,” he said.
“Mediahuis managed to make the switch from being a print company with digital expertise to a digital company that also makes exceptionally strong print media.”
Independent.ie closed the year with more than 30,000 paying digital subscribers, from a standing start in February 2020, the company said.
However, advertising and individual sales of daily papers were hit by the pandemic, the company said.
The Saturday edition of the Irish Independent and the group’s Sunday papers held up better, the company said.
INM CEO Marc Vangeel said the Irish business had been able to leverage systems, technology and experience from Mediahuis, combined with the expertise within INM, to take major steps in digitalisation.
In Ireland the group invested in new digital products including price comparison brand Choosy. INM also sold its 50% shares in the Irish Daily Star to joint venture partner Reach plc and closed the Citywest printing plant in Dublin.