Radio station successes enable UTV to sound a positive note

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The Independent Online

UTV, the Irish media company that includes the Northern Ireland ITV franchise, may be feeling the pinch in television advertising, but its radio stations are booming.

The numbers speak for themselves. Group turnover for the six months to June was up by 8 per cent to £62m, and overall pre-tax profits before exceptional items increased by 12 per cent to £10.4m. While the television division's operating profits were down by 15 per cent to £4.7m – hit, like the sector as a whole, by the twin problems of audience fragmentation and the economic slowdown – operating profits for radio were up by 31 per cent to £9m.

Against overall growth of 5 per cent, the company's biggest success stories are the TalkSport station, with revenue growth of 18 per cent to £12.1m, and its Irish services, up by 24 per cent to £9.4m on a like-for-like basis.

The key to TalkSport's success is its very specific audience, says John McCann, UTV's chief executive. "What we have is a male-dominated, ABC1 product with an 18- to 34-year-old demographic that is very attractive to advertisers," Mr McCann said. "First and foremost is the demographic of the audience, which had previously been underestimated by the market because the station used to be seen as downmarket," he said.

In Ireland, UTV's strength is its leading position in all the major urban centres. "It means we can package them together for national advertisers and also sell at a local level to local retailers," Mr McCann said.

With TV advertising down by 4 per cent, against an overall television market down by 9 per cent, a clearly differentiated proposition will be crucial to survival. "Anybody in this environment has to be cautious about ad revenues going forward," Mr McCann said. "Economic conditions are such that it would be foolish to predict a significant improvement in the near future."

The on-going debate with the regulator over the contract rights renewal formula – which governs the relationship between ITV and advertisers – is also a significant factor.

UTV's shares closed up 0.75p at 138.25p.