We’ve come to expect confused signals from Mirror Group and last
week it proved that, despite senior personnel reshuffles in recent
weeks, it’s still the master. Its timing remains immaculate too - last
week it also announced that profits for the year to 3 January were up 25
per cent year on year to pounds 100 million. And indeed that nice round
number is perhaps the main reason for those confused - and confusing -
Just before the announcement, a cunning plan began to surface. Well, two
cunning plans, if we’re being accurate. And it pays to be accurate where
Mirror Group is concerned. The last time Campaign reported (in August
1998) that relaunch plans for Sporting Life (which ceased publication in
May 1998) had been scrapped, a number of Mirror Group directors and camp
followers called up to question both our parentage and our
We were accused of all sorts of things, from laziness to maliciousness
and an inability to handle simple facts.
So we’re happy to report this time that ... er, Mirror Group has
scrapped plans to relaunch Sporting Life. It will have something of an
afterlife though: Mirror Group intends to concentrate its efforts on
upgrading a Sporting Life website and developing its online betting
The other development is potentially far more weighty - Mirror Group is
letting it be known that it will consider selling its TV interests.
These include Scottish Television, in which it has an interest through
its 18.6 per cent shareholding in STV’s parent company, Scottish Media
Group; and its wholly owned entertainment channel, Live TV.
The widespread assumption is that these two announcements add up to a
strategy. It’s all about cutting away the peripheral parts of the
business and retrenching into what it does best: good old-fashioned
ink-on-paper newspapers. And that, in turn, can only mean one thing:
Mirror Group has decided, once again, to go it alone.
Are they serious? It’s only a matter of weeks since David Montgomery was
ousted from his position as chief executive because he believed this was
possible. Supposedly, the whole world, and especially the City, knew
this was not an option. The new chief executive, John Allwood, had
barely taken control of the executive washroom keys before talks with
two serious suitors, Trinity and Regional Independent Media, had
The sale of Scottish Media Group would not amuse either suitor - SMG
also owns Glasgow’s Herald newspapers - because they are primarily
interested in regional properties and The Herald dovetails with Mirror
Group’s wholly owned Daily Record and Sunday Mail titles. Add STV and
you practically own the market in Scotland.
There are inevitably those who point to the pounds 100 million profit
figure as evidence that Montgomery was right all along. Forget strategy,
all they need to do now is dump those bits of the company that don’t
make money. Or they just don’t understand. Like Live TV.
Why then is it dabbling in the internet when it has shown that it has
never really been able to understand its lower tech predecessor, TV? And
if it’s really so hot in its core press sector, how on earth does it
explain the Sporting Life fiasco? In particular the fact that it has
killed off the wrong title, having decided to plug away with the Racing
We’ll see. In any case, Trinity and Regional Independent Media may well
have a different take on all of this. They’ve both had bids of just
under pounds 1 billion rejected, though Mirror Group has indicated that
the door is still open to improved offers. From that point of view, its
recent announcements look like nothing more than a wheeze to tickle up
more money. It’s called brinkmanship. The only way you’ll win is if
no-one has a clue about what you’re likely to do next. Mirror Group
might just turn out to be very good at that.