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Mirror plans Hearts soccer channel

MIRROR GROUP is to launch a local cable TV channel for the Scottish football club, Heart of Midlothian, similar to the one operated by BSkyB and Granada on behalf of Manchester United.

But the Mirror's chief executive, David Montgomery, is playing down suggestions that his company might follow Sky into bidding for a club outright.

"We are not in the business of paying hundreds of millions of pounds for football rights," he said. "We hope to do other similar deals to provide local cable TV for soccer clubs, but our business strategy is focused on national and regional newspapers."

He said Mirror Group had "yet to decide" how to respond to Rupert Murdoch's plans to buy Manchester United. "You have to remember that he [Murdoch] now has the number one position in national newspapers by a long way, that he has a majority of pay TV, and he now owns a large part of British football. So I think the regulator will look at that intensely," he said.

Mr Montgomery yesterday announced an 11 per cent increase in half-year pre-tax profits to pounds 49m. He also said he remained convinced there would eventually be "a major consolidation" in the newspaper industry and that "we would hope to be a part of that".

Mirror Group was targeted for takeover earlier this year by Germany's Axel Springer, but talks broke down before a bid could be made. Separate exploratory talks with the regional newspaper group, Trinity, were also ended.

Mr Montgomery said the interim results reflected the balance the company had to achieve between higher profits and the need to invest in its core newspaper titles: "We could have made more money, but we would have lost circulation."

An extra pounds 6m was invested in the flagship Daily Mirror during the half year and rather more than that on Scottish titles. The product improvement achieved has helped stabilise circulation. About half this investment was paid for out of the cost efficiencies resulting from the group's acquisition of MIN.

Victor Blank, Mirror Group chairman, said it made the company more balanced: "It gives the group a broader portfolio alongside our national titles."