Midland weighs up Reed Elsevier titles

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Midland Newspapers, the regional newspaper publisher, said yesterday it was considering a bid for some of the regional titles put up for sale by publishing giant Reed Elsevier, writes Mathew Horsman.

Midland received the sales memorandum documenting the titles last week, and is weighing which of the newspapers are the most attractive. "We are interested in newspapers we can bolt on to our existing titles," Chris Oakley, chief executive, said.

Midland's main titles are the Birmingham Post, the Evening Mail, the Coventry Telegraph and the Sunday Mercury.

Mr Oakley made the comments as the company announ- ced interim profits of pounds 9.4m, up from pounds 4.8m in the first six months of 1994. Last year's figures were depressed by financing charges associated with a management buyout.

The 1995 interims also included results from Inside Communications, the exhibitions company bought at the end of 1994.

Mr Oakley said that advertising revenues grew comfortably, led by recruitment advertising which was better than expected. Circulation at all four main titles rose slightly, despite the national circulation price war, which has affected regional titles as well.

Newspaper costs rose 15 per cent, with further rises of up to 35 per cent to come in the second half. Altogether, newsprint prices rises will add pounds 3m to the company's costs in the full year.

Midland's joint venture local television service, Birmingham Live, is expected to be in profit by 1998, Mr Oakley said. The service, launched jointly with the national cable channel Live TV, will be a mixture of locally produced programming and a feed from Live TV's headquarters.

Live TV, which is seeking other partners to develop regional opt-out versions of the Live format, is owned by Mirror Group, part-owner of the Independent.

Kelvin MacKenzie, managing director of Live TV, said: "We are enormously confident about Birmingham Live. The revenue amounts projected are 30 per cent higher than those we anticipate nationally. That shows how much more profitable the local version of Live will be."

o Southern Newspapers, the regional newspaper publisher traded for the first time on the AIM market yesterday, announced profits of pounds 11.5m on full-year revenues of pounds 82m.