View looks good from Lord Hollick's chair

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The Independent Online
Leaning back in his chair in an office with a panoramic view of central London, Lord Hollick was looking rather pleased with himself yesterday. As well he might. Everything seems to be going right for the Labour Peer and media baron right now. As a part-time special adviser to Margaret Beckett, President of the Board of Trade, he has an unrivalled hearing at the centre of Government and a valuable insight into the workings of the new administration. Meanwhile, back at his day job as chief executive of United News and Media, everything seems to be powering ahead on all fronts. Once sceptical analysts have added him to their buy lists, and while his share price is still well off its peak, it is back on a strongly rising trend.

The boring bit of United, which runs exhibitions and publishes freebie trade magazines, is proving as good a cash generator as they come. Which is fortunate, for the more interesting bits of this curious hotchpotch of media interests seem only too happy to soak it up. Lord Hollick talks boldly of giving the Mail newspapers a run for their money with his Express titles and is pouring millions into the pursuit. On that front the jury is out but few in the City are yet questioning his judgement. Meanwhile even Channel 5 is doing better than expected. This was supposed to be a financial black hole in the making. While it is true that a third of the country still can't get access, and media critics continue to give its content a pasting, losses are running lower than forecast and advertisers are voting with their chequebooks. It should easily make a profit in its fourth year, analysts say.

Then there are the opportunities provided by interactive technology of which Lord Hollick, a big user of Internet bookshops and even virtual florists, is a leading exponent. There must be a cloud on the horizon somewhere, of course. But right now, the bearded baron is enjoying the view.

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