Smiling: the Archant team of Adrian Jeakings, Nigel Websper and John Fry
Regional newspaper publisher Archant launched a dawn raid that netted it 12 of Independent News and Media's Greater London regional newspapers - helping it to outflank rivals Newsquest and Northcliffe.
Archant's £52m bid for the 12 INM titles was announced early on Thursday - just hours after the Daily Mail-owned Northcliffe had been given clearance by the Government to put forward a bid of its own.
Newsquest's interest in INM's London region newspapers led to a protracted Competition Commission inquiry that lasted most of the summer. During the review of its bid for the titles, Newsquest had to scale down its original £60m offer, cutting a number of key titles out of the deal due to public interest conflicts with its own publications.
Archant's agreement to buy the 12 INM titles has been praised in some quarters and criticised by rivals because the company took advantage of a loophole in the competition regulations, which expire at the end of the year.
A bid for the entire portfolio, including the Hackney Gazette and the Bromley Times, would have triggered an automatic investigation by regulators, as a deal for all the INM publications would have passed a circulation threshold of 500,000 for the acquired titles.
To avoid the process gone through by other bidders due to competition issues, Archant has split its offer for the newspapers.
The first part - the deal just announced - is for only 12 of INM's 27 Greater London titles. Archant is then expected to complete a second deal for the remainder of the portfolio, valued at another £10m, in the new year.
The second leg of the deal is expected to take place once new legislation comes into place in the form of the new Communications Act and Enterprise Act, under which investigations into newspaper deals will depend on public interest issues rather than circulation figures.
"The Archant team has moved quickly in this acquisition, taking advantage of our private status, our strong cash position and secured lines of credit," said John Fry, Archant's chief executive.
"This deal doesn't need the prior approval of the Secretary of State as the total average daily paid-for circulation of Archant's existing newspapers and those we are buying is below the 500,000 threshold currently specified by the Department of Trade and Industry."
For its part, Northcliffe was unhappy about losing out in its pursuit of the INM titles. A company spokesman said: "Northcliffe was very disappointed that it wasn't able to conclude the deal, having worked very hard to do this."
Archant's deal for the titles has ended a barren stretch for the company in terms of acquiring other newspapers. The company has repeatedly declared its intention to expand, but has failed on bids for a number of other titles.
This article was first published on Media Week