Reach plc has confirmed it is in the “early stages” of discussions to buy part of rival publisher JPIMedia.
The company has this morning revealed an offer has been made for “certain of JPIMedia’s assets”, but says there can be “no certainty” that any deal will go through.
Rumours a potential sale of the company was on the horizon took a step closer last week, with Sky News revealing JPIMedia had set a deadline for preliminary offers for its titles, which include national daily the i and more than 100 regional news brands.
The broadcaster also claimed 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.
But, in a statement published today, Reach made clear that it too had joined the race.
Reach already owns the main news brands in most of the UK’s biggest cities and if its bid for JPIMedia is successful, it could add other flagship titles such as the Yorkshire Post, The Scotsman and Sheffield daily The Star to its growing portfolio.
The statement said: “The board of Reach plc (“Reach” or the “company”) notes the recent media speculation and confirms that it is in the early stages of discussions in relation to acquiring certain of JPIMedia’s assets.
“As has been previously stated by the company, regular consideration is given to merger and acquisition opportunities which would accelerate its strategy.
“There can be no certainty at this stage that these discussions will lead to an agreed transaction.
“A further announcement will be made if and when appropriate.
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.
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.