Interview: UBM CEO Says Print Sell-Offs Complete, Digital Tip Point Ahead

UBM CEO David Levin tells paidContent the business publisher is done with off-loading content businesses for now and is about to see online revenue overtake print, after a year in which it sold several magazine titles and bought more heavily in to events.

The group sold its French medical publishing business plus its UK titles for farmers, doctors, music industry professionals, publicans and others for a combined £25 million through last year.

“The strategy is to grow in events and in emerging markets,” says Levin, who also spent up to £71 million on eight, mostly event-related acquisitions last year.

We’re exiting orphaned bits of content not related to other endeavours. But we’re not particularly looking for more content disposals at this juncture; we’re substantially through that.

“We’ve sold good businesses like Farmers’ Guardian, which is super-good but unrelated to our view of how we can use media to span the world. We traded out of that and in to the Malaysian Furniture Fair.”

2011 operating profit rose 17.5 percent on nine percent higher revenue of £972 million, the company reported on Tuesday.

Following some of the print disposals and online expansion, UBM expects its Marketing & Services division will in 2012 see online revenue overtake print for the first time. Last year, the magazine disposals meant revenue dipped by six percent – but this year the company expects it to grow by two to four percent, driven by double-digit online growth spurred by its technology line-up including TechWeb and TechInsights.

A former Symbian CEO, Levin speaks fondly of the mobile and tablet opportunity.

“It’s hardwired at a personal level in to myself,” he says. “We’ve got platform-agnostic HTML 5 developments, we need to cater for demand.

“And you’ll see more launches at our trade show level, with mobile guides so that people at an event can participate more fully and we can deliver more content to people which is time-sensitive and relevant.”

Levin says UBM’s PRNewswire has been rejuvenated by social media. Company earnings announcements, on which it used to trade most prominently, are now less than a fifth of all the press releases it distributes, while its enhanced social media releases, including video and social network links, are 23 percent of the total, spurred by fanning out in to a network of over 7,000 partner sites.

“PRNewswire now has a Google (NSDQ: GOOG) PageRank of eight – which is on a level with The Guardian or MTV or Digg,” Levin says.

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