Affected market: Publications
The OFT’s decision on reference under section 33 given on 14 December
2006. Full text of decision published 8 January 2007.
Please note that the square brackets indicate figures or text which
have been deleted or replaced with a range at the request of the parties
for reasons of commercial confidentiality.
Irish News Ltd (Irish News) publishes the leading daily newspaper in
Northern Ireland called The Irish News, which contains a farming section
within its business pages called Agribusiness. Furthermore, an affiliate
of Irish News holds a [ ] per cent share in the Derry News and a [ ]
per cent share in three newspapers in the Republic of Ireland - the
Kildare Post, the Donegal Post and the Letterkenny.
Johnston Press plc (Johnston) publishes local newspapers throughout
the UK, including 31 local weekly newspapers and one farming periodical,
Farm Week, in Northern Ireland.
Johnston acquired 8 newspapers, including the News Letter, in Northern
Ireland from Local Press Ltd in November 2005. That transaction was the
subject of an OFT decision on 5 May 2006 (the Decision) [Note 1]. The OFT
decided on 6 October 2006 to accept undertakings offered by Johnston to
divest Farm Week in order to remedy the substantial lessening of competition
identified in the Decision. Further to the decision, Irish News proposes to
acquire the assets of Farm Week from Johnston. The administrative deadline
expires on 8 January 2007.
As a result of this transaction Farm Week and Irish News will cease to
be distinct. The parties overlap in agricultural publications in
Northern Ireland. The OFT believes that it may be the case that, post
transaction, the parties supply over 25 per cent of publications with
agricultural editorial ( non-advertising) content targeted at the
farming community in Northern Ireland and the share of supply test in
section 23 of the Enterprise Act 2002 (the Act) is therefore met. The
OFT therefore believes that it is or may be the case that arrangements
are in progress or in contemplation which, if carried into effect, will
result in the creation of a relevant merger situation.
The parties will overlap in the supply of farming publications in
Northern Ireland, namely Farm Week and the Agribusiness section of The
In relation to the product frame of reference, the OFT considered in the
Decision both readers seeking appropriate editorial and advertising
content and advertisers seeking readers. The evidence indicated that in
both cases it was appropriate to take a cautious view and assess farming
publications on a separate frame of reference from other publications
and other types of media. The OFT has received no evidence suggesting
that it should take a different view in this case.
In relation to the geographic frame of reference, the OFT concluded in
the Decision that on the evidence available, it was appropriate to take
a cautious view and assess the geographic scope for farming publications
on a Northern Ireland wide basis. Again, the OFT has received no
evidence suggesting that it should take a different view in this case.
As a result of the acquisition considered in the Decision, Johnston
supplies two farming publications, Farm Week and Farming Life. It is
retaining Farming Life, a bi-weekly supplement to its News Letter
newspaper that runs up to 72 pages in its Saturday and Wednesday
editions. It is selling Farm Week, a weekly farmer’s periodical which
is typically around 56 pages. Irish News publishes The Irish News, a
daily newspaper, whose Tuesday edition contains a one page farming
section within its business pages called Agribusiness.
The Decision concluded that Farm Week and Farming Life were each others
closest competitors and found evidence that Agribusiness was not a close
competitor to either title. The OFT has found no evidence to the
contrary in the course of considering the current transaction, as
As part of The Irish News, Agribusiness has a large circulation figure.
Considering circulation alone , post acquisition, it appears that Irish
News will become the largest publisher of farming publications in
Northern Ireland with about 20 per cent (increment about 5 per cent),
compared to a similar figure for Farming Life. However the OFT concluded
in the Decision that circulation figures overstate Agribusiness’
strength within farming publications in Northern Ireland. This is due to
a number of factors. The Agribusiness section itself accounts for just
one page contained within the business section of the newspaper, in
comparison to 72 pages for Farming Life and 56 pages for Farm Week,
which strongly suggests the farming community is not a significant part
of The Irish News’ readership. The parties and third parties agree that
Agribusiness’ content is better known for its business rather than
farming coverage and its advertising sales concentrate on one major
customer. A 2004 industry survey (the Millward Brown Ulster survey of
Northern Ireland farming publications) also failed to characterise
Agribusiness as a viable alternative to Farm Week (or Farming Life).
No third party expressed concerns about the merger. Customers and
competitors to Farm Week considered Farming Life, rather than
Agribusiness, to be the main publication for readers and advertisers in
Northern Ireland. Third parties also found it unlikely that Northern
Ireland wide newspapers, such as The Irish News, would expand their
small farming sections to something on the scale of Farm Week. The Irish
News used to contain a two-page farming supplement called Northern
Farmer which ceased publication around seven years ago as it was
relatively unsuccessful in the face of competition from Farming Life and
In conclusion, the OFT considers that the available evidence indicates
that Agribusiness is not a significant farming publication in Northern
Ireland, especially in comparison to the two leading publications - Farm
Week and Farming Life. This acquisition will allow Farm Week to remain a
strong competitive constraint on Johnston's Farming Life.
The parties overlap in the supply of farming publications in Northern
Ireland. Despite Agribusiness’ large circulation as part of The Irish
News, the OFT believes that that it is not a close competitor to Farm
Week, taking into account comparative size, focus, customer, competitor
and survey evidence. Furthermore, post merger, the OFT considers that
Farm Week will act as a strong constraint on the leading farming
publication in Northern Ireland, Farming Life.
Consequently, the OFT does not believe that it is or may be the case
that the merger may be expected to result in a substantial lessening of
competition within a market or markets in the United Kingdom.
This merger will therefore not be referred to the Competition Commission
under 33(1) of the Act.
- OFT decision dated 5 May 2006, Completed Acquisition by Johnston
Press Plc of Local Press Ltd.