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July 2, 2021updated 30 Sep 2022 10:25am

Richard Desmond leaves UK media market after 47 years with sale of Reach shares

By Charlotte Tobitt

Richard Desmond, the former Daily Express, Channel 5 and porn mogul, has sold his shares in Reach, meaning he has no stake in the UK media market for the first time in almost 50 years.

Northern & Shell sold the Express and Star daily and Sunday newspapers and celebrity magazines OK!, New!, and Star to Reach (then Trinity Mirror) in a £127m deal in 2018.

Part of the deal granted £20m in Reach shares to Northern & Shell, which Desmond founded in 1974, making it one of the largest shareholders in the biggest commercial news publisher in the UK.

New Companies House filings show Desmond had intended to hold on to his shares as recently as December but subsequently made the “strategic decision” to sell.

This was put down to two reasons: an approach made to buy Northern & Shell’s shares, and a significant increase in Reach’s share price.

The shares were sold for £62.5m, which together with dividend income of £3.7m meant Northern & Shell made profit of £46.2m with a 213% return.

According to the Companies House filings, the shares were valued at £35.2m in 2019 and £38.7m at the end of 2020.

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Northern & Shell will focus instead on its bid to take over the National Lottery licence in 2023, earmarking about £20m for the project. It already runs the Health Lottery.

Calculations by the Guardian in 2017, five months before the sale to Trinity Mirror was announced, showed Desmond had made almost £350m in pay, dividends and rent from Express Newspapers over 17 years.

Reach’s share price jump is likely due to confidence in its customer value strategy, which means users are now asked to register with their email. Reach said recently it was “well on track” for its target of 10m registrations by the end of 2022.

Reach’s digital revenue grew by 35% year-on-year between 8 December and 25 April this year, overtaking print for the first time after additional “good early progress” in commercialising Reach’s new data-driven targeted advertising products.

Desmond’s history in UK media

Northern & Shell started with the publication of music magazine International Musician and Recording World in 1974 before it expanded into other leisure and specialist titles.

It took on the UK licence for Penthouse in 1983 and soon expanded further into the adult magazine business. All its adult titles, including Asian Babes, were sold for £10m in 2004.

Northern & Shell launched OK! magazine in 1993. The title was one of those sold to Reach in 2018 and now has an average print circulation of 83,222.

Express Newspapers, which included the Daily Express, Sunday Express and Daily Star, was acquired from United News & Media in 2000 for £125m. Desmond subsequently launched the Daily Star Sunday in 2002 and the New! and Star magazines in 2003. All these titles were sold in the deal with Trinity Mirror 15 years later.

Desmond purchased Channel 5 from RTL group in 2010 for £103.5m. He sold it to US media group Viacom for £450m four years later. He told The Guardian he had already recouped his investment so had effectively turned £100m into £550m.

He moved completely out of both the TV and adult entertainment businesses two years later in 2016 with the sale of his five adult TV channels in a six-figure management buyout deal.

Portland Television was set up in 1995 and included Television X and Red Hot. It made up less than 2% of Northern & Shell revenues over the three years before the sale.

Picture: Reuters/Olivia Harris

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