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Daily Mail & General Trust, the UK media group, on Wednesday heralded the biggest shake-up of the UK regional newspaper market for a decade, with the surprise announcement that it was putting its Northcliffe Newspapers division up for sale.
The collection of 112 titles, which analysts estimated could be worth more than £1.5bn ($2.6bn), is likely to attract interest from private equity houses and from trade buyers from the UK, the US, and possibly Europe.
Any sale is also likely to attract regulatory scrutiny.
DMGT, which also owns national newspapers, radio assets and business information titles, said it had appointed Greenhill, the independent investment bank, to investigate whether a sale would create more value than its current efforts to reduce costs in the regional newspapers.
The news took rivals by surprise but some expressed tentative interest on Wednesday.
Trinity Mirror, the largest UK regional newspaper publisher, said it would “watch the Northcliffe strategic review with interest” and Johnston Press, another of the UK’s top
four, is understood to be interested.
Private equity groups including 3i, Apax, Can-dover, CVC and KKR are likely to examine the possibility of buying some or all of the titles.
Non-UK groups led by Gannett of the US, whose Newsquest division is already the UK’s second largest regional newspaper publisher, are also expected to show interest.
Axel Springer of Germany has plans to expand its newspaper assets internationally but is in the midst of negotiating the acquisition of ProSiebenSat.1, the broadcaster.
Guardian Media Group and Archant, two smaller UK regional publishers, indicated they would be unlikely to buy the whole business but look for opportunities to acquire assets disposed of because of competition concerns.