The Guardian Media Group have released their financial statements for the twelve months to March 29th 2015, and on the face of it they appear to be good news for the company.
Its publishing arm, Guardian News & Media (GNM) has managed to reduce its underlying losses and grow the proportion of its revenue that comes from digital sources by 20 percent. On top of all that, the group’s overall revenue rose to £214.6 million from £209 million the year before.
David Pemsel, GMG chief executive, said of the results:
“These results give us the confidence to invest further in the world-class journalism, digital innovation and growing international readership which has made the Guardian such a powerful global brand. That, in turn, will help deliver long-term financial and editorial sustainability.”
But, as ever with the Guardian, there’s more to the financials than initially meets the eye. Without the almost £550 million boost that the group received from its sale of its 50.1 percent stage in Trader Media Group, the company posted a pre-tax loss £17.6m, and its operating costs rose from £40.8m to £45.3m year-on-year. Guardian Media Group’s overall losses were £22.6 million, up £0.1 million.
The sale of its stake in Trader Media Group is essentially an anomaly in the overall performance of the Guardian Media Group. It allowed it to dramatically increase the amount of cash it has on hand for investment, for instance to the new King’s Place exhibition space. Since the results of that investment won’t be known for a few years, it’s hard to make any qualitative judgements about the viability of its strategy, though the chief executive of the Guardian Media Group David Pemsel has previously admitted the investment is likely to have “an impact on the overall commercial narrative” in the interim.
And if, as the Guardian itself is reporting, it is considering selling its stake in Top Right media group, that would increase its cash reserves to well over £1 billion – enough time for the group to make investments in further diversifications in revenue. Its continued divestment of holdings in media companies is evidently part of a long-term plan to ‘transform’ the focus of GMG: In the press release accompanying the results, Neil Berkett, chair of GMG, said:
“These full-year financial results show that the Group is on the right track by increasing revenues and narrowing our underlying operating loss. This is a very creditable performance following the transformation of our balance sheet, which was strengthened significantly by the disposal in 2014 of our stake in Trader Media Group.”
But as these results show that transformation isn’t yet complete. Guardian News and Media still took a loss of over £19 million with regards to its underlying operations – £19.1 million compared to £19.4 million the year before. Even if that loss is narrowing, it’s still present, and a longitudinal look at its losses over the previous few years makes it clear that transformation is necessary.
And while the group’s revenues grew for the third consecutive year – as a result of that 20 percent growth in digital revenue – the overall losses have been fairly consistent over the past few years.
Ultimately, what the Guardian Media Group’s 2015 results demonstrate is a media company still in the midst of a transition, from a pure publisher to a more diverse organisation with revenue coming from digital efforts and its more experimental membership scheme.