APN lifts NZ-based profits, adds to outdoor arsenal with Oggi acquisition

As those who use business quips occasionally say, the topline’s for vanity and the bottom line’s for sanity. And if that’s the case then big Aussie publisher APN is relatively sane at the moment, with the New Zealand business reporting growth in earnings before interest and tax of 10 percent in the year to December 31. And, in what has been classified as a “reasonable investment” for APN Outdoor, it has added OGGI’s billboard assets to its already sizable stable.

Overall, revenue growth for New Zealand was up two percent to A$320.1 million, with profits of $96 million. Its biggest rival Fairfax reported earnings in New Zealand of $46.1 million in the six months to December 31, up 11 percent on the $41.6 million last year.

The New Zealand Heral ended the year with gains in circulation and delivered seven year highs in readership and Herald on Sunday advertising was up 16 percent year-on-year on the back of strong readership growth.

APN’s New Zealand radio business reported a A$12.8m profit, which is down three percent on the previous year, although the company said the market returned to solid growth in the December half.

While financial figures for APN’s joint venture on GrabOne weren’t made public, the numbers suggest it has also been very successful and has now taken the clear market leader position. Also, as a launch partner for the iPad the The New Zealand Herald app has been downloaded by more than 33,000 users.

The out-of-home sector has been on a steady upward course of late and media owners are licking their lips at the thought of the looming Rugby World Cup. APN Outdoor is already the country’s biggest outdoor operation and, with the addition of over 100 billboard panels across the country (including significant coverage in Auckland and Wellington) to its arsenal, it has widened the gap even further.

This brings the total APNO billboard collection to 650 sites around the country (in Australia and New Zealand it also owns over 2,000 transit panels and, in its joint venture with Adshel, operates a network of more than 12,000 illuminated advertising panels). And while NZ outdoor revenue isn’t separated out in APN’s financial reports, EBIT growth for the Australia and New Zealand outdoor arm was up 79 percent in 2010 and APN chief executive Brett Chenoweth says the purchase of OGGI “is consistent with APN’s approach to investing in high growth media opportunities”.

As for how much money was forked over, not surprisingly, Phil Clemas, general manager, APN Outdoor NZ, is keeping mum and would only say it was a “reasonable investment”.

OGGI’s big cheese Gordon Frykberg, who set up the company in 1989, wouldn’t say either, but he says both parties are very happy with the deal.

He says there is an element of sadness to the sale after 22 years at the helm, but by the same token, it was the right time and for APN, he says it adds some strategic assets in the form of supersites and a bigger presence in Auckland for the RWC.

Unfortunately, he says, it’s just hard work ahead for him and there’s no chance of an imminent retirement to the south of France just yet. The purchase didn’t include OGGI Digital, which sells space in the 370-ish Warehouse stores around the country, so he’ll be focusing on developing that business, “hopefully in a similar way to the billboard business”.

He says it has been something of a neglected child over the past year but digital OOH is already big overseas and while he doesn’t expect it to blossom to that degree here, he believes there’s still plenty of potential.

As a result of the sale, he says there will be an office move and the staff will be trimmed to a “lean, mean excitement machine” of three. APN haven’t offered the remaining OGGI staff jobs, but he’s confident they’ll find roles.

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