Earnings: Trinity Ads Fall 28 Percent, Digital Slipping, Will Launch 3am.co.uk

The property and job classifieds downturn meant Trinity Mirror’s online income slipped back 16.5 percent annually to £18.6 million in the half-year to June. But the news group is planning to launch a 3am.co.uk site for celeb gossip and MirrorFootball.co.uk this year to help things back in the right direction.

Display, motor and “other” online ads – aside from homes and jobs – grew 32.5 percent during the period. Trinity has grown monthly uniques 40 percent over the year to 16.6 million and is targeting 24 million by end of 2010.

Regionals (revenue down 29.3 percent to £139.2 million)…
— Digital operating profit down 34.5 percent to £3.8 million, on 16.9 percent worse income of £16.2 million.
— Unique users up 11 percent annually to 7.2 million.
— Print operating profit down 66 percent to £13.5 million on 29.3 percent worse income of £139.2 million.
— Ad sales down 34.5 percent to £104 million – the declines got marginally smaller through May and June.
— Display ads down 21.5 percent, recruitment down 50.4 percent, property down 52.5 percent, motors down 34.4 percent. Recruitment and property (the biggest categories of classifieds) are made up 34.2 percent and 24.3 percent respectively by digital.
— Circulation income down 8.1 percent to £36.5 million.

Nationals (revenue down 6.9 percent to £227.6 million)…
— Ad sales down 14.4 percent to £64.4 million.
— Circulation income down 3.1 percent to £133.3 million – hurt by “consumers cutting discretionary spend”.

Group operating profit nearly halved to £49.1 million on 16.8 percent worse revenue of £383 million. Ad sales fell 28 percent to £168.4 million. Figures would have been worse had Trinity not shaved off £46 million in costs by closing 28 papers this year, freezing hiring and cutting 1,800 job losses in the last 18 months. In other words, the economy may be screwed and newspapers may be in fundamental structural decline – but at least some sacrificial slaughters might please the market.

And that’s the way Trinity will continue – while expecting “gradual improvement in the rate of decline”, it is nevertheless also upping planned cost cuts from £25 million to £35 million.

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From the analysts’ call

More detail on MirrorFootball.co.uk: CEO Sly Bailey says it “will showcase best in reporting and opinion on the modern game along with the best of the most breathtaking photographs from our archives”. Will include a diversified commercial model built around gaming, interactive competitions ie. fantasy football, content and section sponsorship, etailing of merchandise from archive football photos, and display ads.

New news consortia: Digital Britain’s proposed consortia to replace ITV (LSE: ITV) regions “offers interesting possibilities so we continue our exploratory talks with potential partners”.

Newspaper consolidation?: “Consolidation could be attractive for our shareholders – we’re awaiting further guidance from the OFT regarding their local media assessment, in September.” But not just consolidation, maybe partnerships: “We have to think in the broadest sense about consolidation and whether we can think really smart.”