Emerging use of AI tools

Reach's digital vision supported by 'predictable and reliable' print

Mullen: significant progress in becoming a data-driven, digitally-focused business

Print revenues at media group Reach have proved more resilient than at its digital operation.

Results just filed also reflect the massive restructuring undertaken last year, with headcount reduced by 14% and labour costs cut by 5%, although the restructure came with a price tag of £26.9m.

In its year-end figures for the 53 weeks to 31 December 2023, Reach filed overall sales down 5.4% at £568.6m.

Adjusted operating profit fell by 9% to £96.5m, while statutory operating profit (including restructuring charges and impairments) was down by more than 35% at £46.1m.

The bottom line adjusted profit after tax fell by 19.1% at £68.4m. The statutory post-tax profit was £21.5m, down nearly 59%.

In his review CEO Jim Mullen commented: “Throughout the year, we made significant progress in becoming a data-driven, digitally-focused business, supported by a predictable and reliable print business.”

He said the business had removed several long-term uncertainties, including resolving its pension fund valuations along with a decision on the time limit for ‘historical legal issues’ aka the phone hacking scandal, with the costs of settling the claims reduced by £20.2m.

Newsprint costs reduced by 21% due to reduced circulation volumes and an unwinding of 2022’s price increases.

Print revenues slipped by 2.2% to £438.8m, with contract printing down by £4.3m, or 8%.

Reach Printing Services has three print sites at Watford, Oldham and Cardonald and is the UK’s biggest contract newspaper printer.

Reach said that print advertising revenues were down 11.9%, but outperformed the print volume decline which was 17%.

The group also made its final deferred payment of £7m related to the purchase of the Express and Star newspapers.

Digital revenue fell by 15% to £127.4m as platforms such as Facebook “deprioritised news content”.

“Strategically driven or 'data-led revenues', which are more resilient and higher yielding, performed robustly,” Reach stated, falling by 4%.

Regarding the group’s emerging use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools, Mullen said: “We have steadily increased our use of AI through the year, while carefully controlling its roll-out, and by the end of 2023 over a dozen newsrooms were set up to use an AI tool to support their work.

“As we continue to test AI's potential, we ensure that every story is edited and approved by a journalist, maintaining our commitment to responsible journalism.”

Reach owns more than 130 print and online brands, including household names such as the Mirror, Manchester Evening News, and OK! Magazine. A new revenue stream has come from around 12,000 paying subscribers to the OK! Beauty Box.

Reach’s share price jumped by 13.29%, or 7.9p, on the news (52-week high: 91p, low: 58.47p).