'Tis the season for big newspaper acquisitions
A view from Gideon Spanier

'Tis the season for big newspaper acquisitions

One of the joys of writing about media is there is no shortage of gossip.

But if the old joke is that economists have predicted nine out of the last three recessions, then media people have probably forecast 19 out of the last three media takeovers.

The news market is ripe for consolidation as media owners want digital scale to offset another year of slumping print ad sales. We have already had the sale of the Financial Times to Nikkei and Local World to Trinity Mirror, plus Axel Springer’s Business Insider deal.

So who’s next? Some say Telegraph Media Group, although the company insists it is not for sale. There are rumours that a suitor sounded out ministers about a takeover in recent weeks. Ministerial goodwill helps, as the Competition and Markets Authority can refer a newspaper acquisition to the culture secretary on "public interest" grounds.

Oligarchs and sheikhs might covet the Telegraph but a more logical buyer would be Daily Mail and General Trust, which made a bid in 2004. An alliance could put it on a par with News UK, the market leader.

Sources close to DMGT say it knows nothing about the Telegraph rumours and is not involved. DMGT’s ownership of Metro might also be an obstacle to a deal because of market share. But it is not unreasonable to speculate that it might let go of the freesheet, which was the subject of sale rumours last year. DMGT has signalled no interest in selling Metro, of course.

However, the regulator and the City are warming to newspaper mergers. Shareholders unanimously approved the Local World deal and, as Enders Analysis noted, the CMA is "more relaxed on the prospect of consolidation in a new world where competition for advertising spend had evolved to incorporate the likes of Facebook, Google, Rightmove and Auto Trader".

Trinity Mirror has made clear that it has an appetite for more deals. Talks with Richard Desmond about buying his Daily Express foundered, but that didn’t stop the plotting. Campaign revealed this week that Desmond tried to turn the tables with a takeover move for Trinity Mirror, with the Goldman Sachs banker Mike Sherwood providing informal advice.

Desmond has cooled on the idea after the Local World tie-up and is accusing Trinity Mirror of "prolonging the idea of a deal" with the Express as a "cheap means of shoring up their share price". But he knows that, like everyone else, he needs greater scale or a sale.

There are more deals to be done. There is a rumour that Bloomberg and City AM flirted last year.

Is that a newspaper proprietor puckering up under the mistletoe?