Belfast Telegraph

Irish competition watchdog launches in-depth probe into newspaper deal

The authority said it needs further detail to determine whether the takeover threatens competition.

Ireland’s competition watchdog is launching an in-depth probe into Trinity Mirror’s £126.7 million takeover of the Express and Star newspapers.

The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) said a preliminary investigation found further analysis would be needed to determine whether the proposed acquisition by Trinity Mirror – which has since been rebranded as “Reach” – would harm competition.

As a result, it is now launching a so-called Phase 2 investigation into Trinity’s takeover of Richard Desmond’s Northern & Shell Media Group, which owns titles including the Daily Express and Daily Star.

The Republic of Ireland’s CPCC will make a final decision over whether to approve the deal by October 23 and will take submissions until July 24.

Last month, the Express takeover was cleared by the UK Government after Culture Secretary Matt Hancock said he will not be referring the deal for a full investigation.

He said he accepted Ofcom’s conclusions the deal does not raise public interest concerns over plurality of views in the media, and does not raise concerns in relation to free expression of opinion in newspapers.

Mr Hancock added he backed the CMA’s findings that the acquisition does not lead to a substantial reduction of competition in any market.

Under its planned takeover, Trinity will stump up an initial £47.7 million to Northern & Shell, followed by £59 million between 2020 and 2023 and a further £20 million in shares.

Reach has warned there will be job losses under aims to slash annual costs by £20 million within two years, although it is unclear how many at this stage.

It comes at a difficult time for the newspaper industry, which is grappling with sliding advertising revenues.

Reach last week warned of another fall in advertising revenue and increased provisions relating to the phone-hacking scandal by  £7.5 million.

In a trading update for the 26 weeks to July 1, Reach said total group revenue is expected to grow by 11%, reflecting the acquisition of Northern & Shell, the company behind the Daily Express and Daily Star.

However, like-for-like revenue over the period excluding the Express & Star is set to fall by 8%.

Publishing revenue is tipped to be down 8%, with print falling by 10% and digital increasing by 1%. Classified advertising is expected to fall by 19%.

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