Media Sector: United News & Media looks to expand in TV

UNITED NEWS & Media, owner of The Express and Star newspapers and a raft of ITV franchises is looking to expand its television interests.

Lord Hollick, the chief executive, yesterday rejected suggestions that the group was planning to get out of UK newspaper publishing or television. "I've got ambitious plans to grow in both areas and we're rather hopeful that there will be some sort of relaxation in the television area which will help us to continue build that business."

He said that the group would like to increase its stake in Channel Five, the newest terrestrial channel, which is now close to break-even.

The Express, he added, had stabilised its circulation under the former Independent editor Rosie Boycott and was now aiming to raise it over the next year or so.

The group was also focusing on spin-off titles and websites exploiting The Express and Star brands.

Profits fell by 16 per cent in the first half to pounds 137.6m, reflecting the loss of revenue from businesses that United had exited as part of the strategy announced in February to refocus the group on high-yielding areas in electronic media. Investment spend on new products and the Internet has accelerated to pounds 31m. That compares with pounds 45m for the whole of last year. Losses from new ventures, including C5, fell from pounds 13.3 to pounds 11.1m.

The group recently spun off its money broking operations which, as Garban, has just sealed a merger with Intercapital to create one of the biggest broking firms worldwide.

Analysts had been primed to expect some weakness in the United States, where advertising revenue in the group's technology trade magazine business has suffered from a halt to product launches ahead of the millennium. This is likely to pick up again once year 2000 worries are out of the way.

Lord Hollick is bullish for the web and technology business overall. After buying CMP Media in the US for $920m earlier in the year the group is combining its hi-tech websites under the CMPnet umbrella and is working towards a listing around the turn of the year, which it hopes will reveal the degree of embedded on-line value within the group.

Web revenues are growing at the rate of over 30 per cent.

Turnover from continuing operations was up 6.6 per cent to pounds 1.075bn while operating profits were slightly ahead at pounds 170.1m.