TOP PERFORMERS OF 2000: Medium of the Year - Metro. Within the past 12 months, the London freesheet has turned a profit, spawned a franchise across the country and now stands as the UK's sixth-biggest paper

With the explosion of media in 2000 from new TV channels to magazine launches, you would expect there to be a large pool of contenders for Medium of the Year.

With the explosion of media in 2000 from new TV channels to magazine launches, you would expect there to be a large pool of contenders for Medium of the Year.

But the number of media jostling for the title was far from overwhelming.

However, short as our shortlist was, there was a clear winner.

When it emerged in 1999 that Associated Newspapers was planning to break new ground with the launch of a London freesheet targeted specifically at morning commuters, observers were sceptical. But in a very short time Metro has become an outstanding force in the newspaper market and is rapidly spawning a franchise across the UK.

Within 11 months of launching, Metro had made a profit and captured a new market for newspaper readers. By the end of 2000, it stood as the UK's sixth-biggest newspaper, with a circulation of around 778,000 in London, Newcastle, Manchester, Birmingham and Edinburgh.

It claims to be the youngest newspaper in the country in terms of its main readership, with 77 per cent of readers aged 14 to 44 years old and 70 per cent falling within the upmarket ABC1 audience.

And it is a clear commercial success. Metro has captured more than pounds 24 million in advertising revenue and its rapid growth in the advertising market can be illustrated by comparing a week in November 2000 - which chalked up pounds 1.17 million in revenue - with the same week the previous year, when the paper took just pounds 150,000.

In seeking to compete against the radio and outdoor advertising market, rather than carving off advertising revenue from the traditional newspaper market, Metro has created some unique advertising opportunities. For example, the paper cleverly took advantage of the nation's petrol crisis back in September, running a competition offering an advertising executive free petrol for a year if they switched some of their radio spend to Metro.

With new versions launching at the beginning of this year in Leeds and Sheffield, and editions for Bristol and Liverpool slated for later this year, Metro aims to give advertisers the opportunity to buy into the specific, time-sensitive commuter audience on a national basis, along the lines of TV advertising. More than 60 per cent of Metro's advertising is now national.

Mike Anderson (bottom, left), managing director of Metro, likes to equate the newspaper's function with that of a new-media company because, with the exception of London, all other regions are managed on a franchise basis, with Metro providing the content and advertising revenue while its partners handle the printing and distribution facilities.

All in all, Metro has become an impressive player in the newspaper market, creating a new medium and in the process cultivating a precious audience of new newspaper readers. It is a readable, well-presented product, proving a winner among commuter audiences. Just look down the carriage of a tube train and you are struck by the 'Metro moment'.

Jostling for a place behind Metro is the Financial Times, which turned in another strong year. Its circulation continued to grow, up 14.3 per cent year on year for the six months from July to November, with worldwide sales accounting for 465,140. UK sales rose 4.7 per cent for the same period to 180,751. Only The Observer has had a higher increase over the same period.

The FT has constantly sought to refresh its offering. In October, it extended its sports coverage on Mondays and launched a supplement covering creative and marketing called Creative Business. It also launched a section for the legal sector called Law and Business.

The FT's offline success has been followed up online, with turning in a good year with 1.7 million unique monthly impressions, an increase of 70 per cent on 1999. With an eye to the future, the FT brought the brand closer to that of the printed title by integrating its ad sales teams in August under the advertising director David Walsh. The move should ensure higher ad revenue across the two versions of the title through joint deals with advertisers.

It would be an oversight not to list Channel 4 as a contender for Medium of the Year, since last summer it brought one of the biggest media phenomena to our TV screens in the shape of Big Brother. It became a cult show and a must-have for many advertisers, with 69 per cent of the population watching it at least once. In its final episode, it pulled in ten million viewers, the highest viewing figure for an entertainment show on UK television.

The channel also gave Ali G his own show last year, kicking off another media cult, and garnered its highest audience for sports programming with its coverage of the test cricket.

The Guardian's suite of websites, Guardian Unlimited, has surprised many but its presence on our shortlist won't. For a start, The Guardian had initially lagged behind its rivals in establishing a strong web presence, and when its strategy was unveiled people were sceptical about the appeal of themed sites for different groups of readers. But the doubters have been proved wrong. The ABCs showed Guardian Unlimited moving into fourth place (behind Electronic Telegraph, and The Wall Street Journal's website), with 394,874 daily readers and 16.7 million monthly impressions.

Guardian Unlimited has also been a smart brand extension - 45 per cent of its readers do not buy a paper.

Recent winners: Freeserve (1999); Daily Mail (1998); FHM (1997); Sky TV (1996); Daily Mail (1995).