Widespread speculation has put Daily Mail publisher DMGT forward as a likely contender to bid for Telegraph Media Group, which has been put up for sale by receivers after the Barclay family failed to service debts owed to Lloyds Banking Group.
DMGT put in a bid for The Telegraph last time it went up for auction in 2004, and proprietor Lord Rothermere has grown his empire substantially in recent years.
But if DMGT did win an auction for The Telegraph, the acquisition would likely face close scrutiny from regulators.
Press Gazette analysis based on the estimated size of the UK’s national daily newspaper market suggests a DMGT purchase of The Telegraph would give the publisher majority market control.
How many copies of national newspapers are sold in the UK each day?
Four of the UK’s national daily newspapers no longer report their circulation figures to auditor ABC, so we do not have official figures for their daily sales nor the overall size of the market.
To estimate these, Press Gazette used figures provided by those newspapers that do report to ABC to calculate an average rate of year-on-year circulation decline across the industry – approximately 16%.
Press Gazette combined that annual attrition rate with the number of years since those papers last reported figures to estimate their current circulation.
Those estimates put the average total circulation of all daily national newspapers in the UK at 3,845,861.
The most recent circulations for DMGT’s Daily Mail, Metro and i newspapers, which all still report to ABC, combine to a total of 1,869,338, just shy of 49% of the entire estimated market.
Press Gazette estimates The Daily Telegraph circulates an average of 188,371 copies a day, narrowly below 5% of the total market. If correct, a DMGT acquisition of Telegraph Media Group (TMG) would therefore carry the Mail publisher above 50% control of the market.
What does the Sunday newspaper market look like?
Even if DMGT were to acquire the Telegraph, the market for Sunday national newspapers would remain more fragmented than the daily market. Press Gazette’s estimate for News UK’s Sunday circulation - incorporating The Sun on Sunday and Sunday Times - gives Rupert Murdoch’s company 40% control of the market.
DMGT, through the Mail on Sunday alone, holds 26% of the market, and The Sunday Telegraph just shy of 6%.
Would DMGT buy The Telegraph?
Besides the immediate similarity of both being politically influential right-wing newspaper publishers, there are commercial reasons DMGT might want to purchase TMG.
Despite long-term print decline, The Telegraph has returned a consistent profit for most of the past two decades. And media analyst Ian Whittaker noted in a post on Linkedin last week that DMGT “already runs the Telegraph's advertising revenues side” and would be “likely to see the Telegraph's subscription focus as potentially bringing lessons for the Mail titles”. The Daily Mail's digital offering Mail Plus has topped 150,000 digital subscribers after being revamped last year.
Their audience profiles are similar, with the Mail saying its audience is 63% ABC1 (i.e. middle or upper class) and The Telegraph, in its print advertiser brochure, claiming an even more commercially attractive 81% ABC1 readers.
Less attractively, however, FT Alphaville published analysis suggesting subscription growth at TMG had plateaued - and that as many as 16% of current subscriptions may be free or steeply discounted.
Press Gazette has approached a DMGT spokesperson for comment on the company’s interest in bidding for TMG.
Would the Competition and Markets Authority intervene if DMGT bought The Telegraph?
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has investigated most recent national newspaper acquisitions.
It looked into Trinity Mirror’s 2018 bid to buy the publisher of the Daily Express and Daily Star, and in 2019 it announced it would investigate DMGT’s acquisition of the i. In 2020 it asked magazine giant Future to sell three titles before allowing it to buy TI Media, and on the broadcast side it ruled in 2018 that Rupert Murdoch’s attempt to take complete control of Sky was not in the public interest, ultimately scuppering the takeover attempt.
As such it appears likely the CMA would take an interest in a DMGT-TMG merger. Besides the near-majority control of the daily newspaper market it might provide to the Mail publisher, Whittaker estimates that the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph would control “around 35%+” of the newspaper advertising market.
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