INM parent Mediahuis sees revenues rise 15% in 2020 amid digital growth

Benefit of first full year of owning Irish titles boosts Belgium media group despite Covid-19

Independent House on Talbot Street in Dublin, home to media group INM. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

Independent House on Talbot Street in Dublin, home to media group INM. Photograph: Alan Betson / The Irish Times

 

Mediahuis, the Belgian parent company of Independent News & Media (INM), saw its turnover swell to €990.5 million in 2020 – up 15 per cent on the year before – as visitors to its news sites and apps “went through the roof” and it benefited from the first full year of its INM ownership.

The news media group, which completed its acquisition of INM in July 2019, said Ireland now contributes 18 per cent of its revenue, which would place the combined turnover of the Irish titles at €178.3 million for 2020.

The group, which also operates in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, posted earnings before tax, interest and write-offs of €171.5 million and operating profit of €121.9 million, with the latter rising 85 per cent from €65.9 million the previous year. Its “net result” arrived at €58.6 million, almost quadrupling.

Mediahuis described 2020 as a “special and challenging year” that, despite the impact of Covid-19 on advertising revenues, had “ultimately resulted in a strong performance” as a result of “rock-solid results in readership income”.

The first signs of a market recovery in advertising became visible near the end of 2020, but pressure on this revenue is expected to continue after falling by 10-20 per cent last year, depending on the brand and the market.

Digital subscription growth allowed it to compensate for “part of this loss”. The group’s news sites registered “unprecedented numbers of visitors”, with the number of digital subscribers “increasing significantly”. Its total number of subscribers now exceed 1.7 million. Some 66 per cent of these were print subscribers and 34 per cent digital, while the one in three who are counted as digital subscribers often combine their purchase with a printed weekend newspaper, it said.

The group had 1.7 million daily app users and a total of 28.5 million podcast plays, it also said.

Mediahuis launched digital subscription products for Independent.ie last February, with the company recently indicating that it had amassed 32,500 subscribers in its first year.

The company employs 750 people in Ireland – where it owns the Irish Independent, Sunday Independent, Belfast Telegraph, the Herald, the Sunday World and several local titles.

“Covid-19 obviously brought its challenges, but it in no way slowed down the digital transition and further growth of INM,” said INM chief executive Mark Vangeel.

In 2020, Independent.ie reached about 800,000 people every day, with Belfasttelegraph.co.uk securing an average of more than 211,000, Mediahuis said. The Sundayworld.com news site and app, launched in October 2019, now averages at 55,000 daily users, it claimed.

Single-copy sales of the printed INM papers “came under pressure” last year due to Covid-19 restrictions, but weekend editions of its titles “continued to yield strong results in the print market”.

‘Pivotal year’

“The steps Mediahuis has taken in recent years in the area of digital transformation meant that we stood strong as a group when the Covid-19 crisis struck. The resilience and agility of our organisation were severely tested. But Mediahuis passed the test with flying colours,” said chief executive Gert Ysebaert.

Mr Ysebaert said Mediahuis had managed to make the switch from being a print company with digital expertise to being “a digital company that also makes exceptionally strong print media” in what was “a pivotal year” for the company.

The group, which counts De Telegraaf in the Netherlands and De Standaard in Belgium among its titles, continued its expansion in 2020, with the process of acquiring Dutch company NDC mediagroep completed just before the end of the year. It acquired 100 per cent of Irish car data company Cartell.ie during 2020, but sold its 50 per cent stake in the Irish Daily Star to UK media group Reach.