The economic slump is bad for newspapers but spare a thought for the people that supply the news: PA Group, owner of the UK’s biggest news agency Press Association, on Thursday reported a pre-tax loss of £8 million for 2008, due to a £8.8 million impairment charge write-down on the company’s PA Sport division. That loss cancels out improved operating profits, 11 percent higher for the year at £7.2 million, and takes the shine off a 7.1 percent rise in total revenues to £102.2 million. There will be no dividend for 2008. PA Group had considered “various offers” for the PA Sport, but in June last year announced it had taken the division off the market. As we revealed in March, the company did manage to sell off its US sports data business SportsTicker to Stats LLC, which is co-owned by AP and News Corp.
As for the rest of the business, it’s hard to say: the group says the PA agency “has positioned itself as the news agency for digital Britain”, referring to the launch of a video newswire and the company’s on-going talks to form part of a consortium replace ITV’s local news coverage after 2012. But no revenue or profit figures are given — and the fact that it has shut down one regional news office and it considering shutting more would suggest those figures do make for easy reading. For PA Group chairman and former Johnston Press CEO Tim Bowdler, 2008 saw “encouraging progress” as PA continues its shift to digital publishing and the figures represent a “resilient” performance. “Although 2009 will be another difficult year, we are trading ahead of the same period last year,” he says.
Annual Report. (pdf)
PA’s weather business MeteoGroup, bought in 2005, is its strongest revenue contributor and made 27 percent higher revenues in 2008 at £18.3. The company upped its stake in that business last year by 5.1 percent to 89.8 percent. The Canadian news agency CNW Group, which PA has a 50 percent stake in, also had a “strong trading year”. PA Group is in the process of finding a new CEO to replace Paul Potts, who retires in January 2010. PA Group is privately-owned by 27 of the UK’s news publishers including Associated Newspapers and News Corp.
Commenting on the results, Bowdler said: