The prospects of regional publisher JPIMedia being sold or broken up appear to have moved a step closer amid reports that its owners are in talks about a sale of its assets.
Sky News revealed today that the company has set a deadline of next Monday for preliminary offers for its titles, which include national daily the i and more than 100 regional news brands.
The broadcaster also claims that Belgian publisher Mediahuis, which recently took over Belfast Telegraph owner Independent News and Media, could be among the bidders for the company, along with fellow regional publishers Archant and Newsquest.
In a statement, JPIMedia said it was “exploring a number of options” and that consolidation within the newspaper industry was “necessary,” although chief executive David King has since played down the prospects of a sale in a message to staff.
JPIMedia was formed last November after its predecessor company Johnston Press went into administration with debts of £220m.
The debt holders, mainly US-based hedge funds, agreed to wipe out £135m of the debt, extend the repayment period for the remaining £85m to 2023, and inject a further £35m of new money, in return for control of the business.
Two months ago, in response to an earlier Sky News report about the potential sale of its titles, Mr King said “nothing has been decided and there is no formal sales process under way.”
However Sky claims that information has been sent to prospective buyers with “optimistic” forecasts about their growth potential as subscription-based assets.
A JPIMedia spokesperson said: “The Board of Directors has recently appointed a financial adviser to better assess the current and future prospects for the business and its titles.
“We believe that our industry is undergoing substantial change and we are not immune from the changing trends in news consumption and rise of digital news alongside the decline in print advertising and circulation.
“Consolidation within the regional media industry is necessary, which is why we are actively exploring a number of options open to us.
“We will provide a further update in due course.”
Before JPIMedia took control in the so-called “pre-pack” deal last November, Johnston Press had put itself up for sale resulting in six offers for all or part of the business.
One offer of between £140m and £150m was made for the whole of the group, while a separate bid of between £96m and £120m for the group, excluding national daily the i, was also received.
Two separate bids for the i alone, worth £25m and £35m respectively, were also made, one of which is believed to have been from Daily Mail owner DMGT.
An offer of £2.5m was made for Sheffield daily The Star, the Sheffield Telegraph and the Doncaster Free Press, while a bid of £30,000 was also received for the Observer Series and West Sussex Gazette.
At the time, it was considered that none of the offers received, or any combination of them, would result sufficient proceeds to enable the group to repay its debts in full.
Since then, however, the business has significantly reduced its cost base through a voluntary redundancy programme and an overhaul of its property portfolio, potentially making it more attractive to investors.
JPIMedia has declined to comment on whether The Buteman or the Bells were offered for sale prior to their closure, but rival publishers in both areas have since decided to launch their own titles.
However the broadcaster said questions remained about the viability of many of JPIMedia’s smaller titles.