UK regional press turns corner

30 October 2014

LONDON: After years of decline, the UK's regional print industry has detected cautious signs of recovery with one industry figure declaring "the worst is over".

Regional newspaper group Johnston Press reported that the fall in advertising revenues had slowed to -3.4% in the third quarter from -4.6% during the first half. This was in large part due to a 19.5% rise in digital income.

Its portfolio of local news sites was now attracting more than 27m monthly unique users, a 40% rise on the same time last year. And the number of mobile users had doubled to around 6.5m a month.

"We're increasingly confident in saying the worst is over for the regional press," said CEO Ashley Highfield. "We might not be completely out of the woods but the growth in digital audiences, and in fact the performance of print, tells us we'll get there."

Another factor expected to boost figures is a regional advertising partnership struck with satellite broadcaster Sky back in May, which is only now coming into effect. This enables local firms to run highly-targeted TV ads, using Sky's AdSmart product.

Separately, an analysis of data from the Advertising Association/Warc Expenditure Report by Suzy Young, Warc's data and journals director, suggested that regional newsbrands could be "on the cusp of growth".

She noted that the significant growth in digital adspend in this medium over the last three quarters had not been enough to offset the decline in print adspend. But, placing the data in context, Young pointed out that the rate of year-on-year decline had moderated from -15.8% and -26.2% in 2008 and 2009 to an expected -5.0% this year and a predicted -4.3% next year.

Digital adspend revenues for regional newsbrands are predicted to rise 17.4% in 2014 and 8.1% in 2015. Additionally, for the first time since 2004, total recruitment advertising, across print and digital, is expected to post a 5% year-on-year increase this year, buoyed by the recent falls in unemployment.

Thirty million people a week still read regional newspapers and the sector is far from being in terminal decline. "It's certainly feasible that advertising revenues will start to register growth," said Young.

Data sourced from Daily Telegraph, Guardian, MediaTel; additional content by Warc staff