Belfast Telegraph

UTV fails in bid to buy Virgin Radio

UTV media, whose interests include UTV and U105, appears to have lost out in the race to buy Virgin Radio.

It was reported in London that Virgin Radio would be taken private after Absolute Radio was named unofficially as the preferred bidder.

The vendor is SMG, the Glasgow-based media group, which announced last year that it intended to dispose of Virgin.

Belfast-based UTV Media, which already owns Talksport, had been identified as the front-runner in the contest to land Virgin.

SMG is now believed to be opting for Absolute Radio, an investment and consultancy firm founded by former Capital Radio executives.

According to the Daily Telegraph, Absolute's proposal values the business at more than £60m, a fraction of the £225m that SMG paid DJ Chris Evans' Ginger Media Group for the station in 2000.

The deal will require the approval of Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group.

Virgin Radio was founded by Sir Richard in 1993 and has the right to his brand under a 15-year licence.

Another contender for the station, Global Radio - which already owns Heart - apparently lost interest after its offer for GCap Media was accepted by the board of the Capital and Classic FM owner earlier this week.

SMG, which is due to publish annual results tomorrow, wants to sell Virgin Radio so it can concentrate on its television businesses, including STV in Scotland and Ginger Productions.

The group postponed the disposal last September after offers came in below its target price. It has since completed a £95m rights issue in December and maintains that it is not a distressed seller.

Virgin's book value has been written down substantially to around £85m.

According to RAJAR, the radio station audience measurement body, the station now attracts only 3.4 million listeners a week, compared to 2.6 million eight years ago.

The Absolute team is led by chief executive Donnach O'Driscoll, who spent two years as head of international development at Capital Radio.

He worked for two years as interim managing director at 107.6 Juice FM in Liverpool, a station Absolute co-owned between 2003 and 2005.

UTV Media had no immediate comment to make on the reports.

Last month, UTV Media reported that it had returned to profit in 2007 with a strong performance by its radio division, offsetting a downturn in television income.

The company, which is the last major plc in Northern Ireland, recently announced acquisitions of FM104, a Dublin radio station, and Tibus, a Northern Ireland web services company.

Belfast Telegraph