Regional publisher Newsquest is said to have tabled a surprise bid for i newspaper owner JPI Media, threatening to derail the takeover efforts of rival Reach.
Newsquest, which owns a string of titles including the Oxford Mail and Brighton’s Argus, is now thought to be the frontrunner in the bidding war, the Guardian reported, citing three sources.
Reach, which publishes the Daily Mirror, confirmed in July that it was in talks to buy assets from JPI, the company formed to buy Johnston Press out of administration last year.
Reach has tabled a bid worth roughly £50m, but this offer has now been usurped by Newsquest, according to the report.
Newsquest was among bidders for JPI’s stable of regional titles last year, although it did not put in an offer for the i newspaper. JPI rejected all offers and instead secured a rescue plan with a consortium of lenders.
It comes three months after Newsquest’s parent company Gannett, which also owns USA Today, was acquired by New Media Investment Group in a $1.4bn (£1.1bn) takeover deal.
While Newsquest was previously considered an unlikely candidate in the JPI bidding war, the takeover means it may now be in a position to expand.
However, any deal could be hampered by competition concerns, and the Competition and Markets Authority is likely to open an investigation into a merger.
Newsquest’s biggest concern may lie in Scotland, as it owns titles such as the National, the Herald and the Evening Times, while JPI’s portfolio includes the Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday.
One source told City A.M. that navigating competition concerns could a “tricky ask” for Newsquest.
A potential solution could be a so-called hold separate agreement, under which independent management is employed to oversee the business on a temporary basis.
A similar arrangement occurred after Reach’s takeover of the Daily Express last year. However, one publishing executive said this was like “buying a car and then having the keys taken away”.
Daily Mail and General Trust, which owns the Daily Mail, is also circling JPI’s assets, and has reportedly tabled a £50m bid for the i newspaper.
Fleet Street veteran David Montgomery, who has formed a new listed company designed to carry out a newspaper takeover spree and has expressed interest in the Telegraph titles, is also said to be circling JPI.
JPI Media declined to comment. Newsquest could not be reached for comment.
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