Update, 14 August 2023: Daily Mail parent company DMGT has formally confirmed it is interested in acquiring the Telegraph Media Group, days after rival newspaper publisher National World did the same.
Sky News reported on Saturday that the company was “courting financial investors” to help fund a bid to buy The Telegraph. DMGT confirmed those reports later the same day.
A spokesperson for the Mail publisher told Sky: “We have been engaged with many parties over the possible synergies between DMG Media and the Daily Telegraph and have registered our interest with Lloyds [Banking Group] but we have no formal plans and there is no consortium.”
DMGT was widely tipped as a contender for the Telegraph when the Barclay-owned newspaper was first placed into receivership in June. Mail proprietor Lord Rothermere bid for The Telegraph last time it was on auction in 2004, and in 2019 the company bought another national newspaper, the i, from JPI Media.
Rothermere took DMGT off the stock market in late 2021 for £1.6bn – likely limiting the amount of cash he has on hand to bid for The Telegraph, the value of which has been put anywhere between £500m and £1bn. Sequential interest rate rises also mean a debt-funded acquisition would be much more expensive now than it would have been in recent years.
Sky News’ Saturday report said Rothermere was “understood to be holding talks with funds based in the Middle East” – which would make DMGT the latest prospective Telegraph bidder reported to be courting deep-pocketed Middle Eastern investors to finance an acquisition. Early reports claimed Will Lewis, the former Telegraph editor and current chief executive of The News Movement, could also use “access to Middle Eastern financing” to power a bid.
Press Gazette analysis previously suggested a DMGT acquisition of The Telegraph would give the Mail group a 50% share of the daily national newspaper market.
The company, which publishes titles formerly owned by JPI Media such as the Yorkshire Post and The Scotsman as well as newer city and national news websites, said in a short statement on Thursday that it "notes media speculation" it may participate in the Telegraph sale process.
It said its "growth strategy is rooted in actively exploring opportunities to build its business through acquisitions and implementing its new operating model for owned assets.
"The Board continues to evaluate accretive opportunities to grow the business and will consider participating in a sale process for Telegraph Media Group as and when such a process formally commences," it said. "There can be no certainty that an acquisition will take place nor as to the terms of such an acquisition."
Last year National World considered buying Reach, the UK's biggest commercial publisher and largest regional publisher, saying there would have been "considerable industrial and financial advantages to combining the newspaper portfolios of the two companies", but said it ultimately decided the circumstances were not right.
The company has made five acquisitions in 2023: the Rotherham Advertiser, B2B publisher Insider Media, digital football publisher Scoop Dragon, video-first and World of Women’s Sport publisher News Chain, and the 155-year-old Newry Reporter newspaper in Northern Ireland.
Also on Thursday the NUJ announced it has issued ballot papers to National World journalists asking whether they are willing to take industrial action against the company over an ongoing pay dispute. The union said it is encouraging its members to vote in favour of both strike action and action short of a strike.
Last month NUJ members at National World passed a no-confidence vote in chairman David Montgomery over the company's decision to issue its first shareholder dividend while simultaneously shedding staff through a round of compulsory redundancies.
The Telegraph and The Spectator are up for sale after effectively being repossessed by Lloyds Banking Group from the Barclay family, who had owned the titles for the past two decades.
Although the two publications are themselves profitable, with Telegraph Media Group growing profit before tax by a third to £39m last year, the Barclays reportedly owe a debt in the area of £1bn to the banking group which has grown unserviceable.
[Read more on Telegraph sale: Period media property for sale, extensively modernised - £600m ONO]
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