Scottish media firm STV Group saw its profit fall two-thirds in 2020 but said that it had achieved a record viewing performance amid the chaos of the pandemic.
The firm, which runs the STV television channel north of the border, said that profit before tax had fallen from £19m to £6.7m in 2020.
However, it said that its audience for the channel had increased 14 per cent, and jumped 83 per cent on its STV player catch-up service this year alone.
The channel is still the most watched peaktime channel in Scotland, it said, stretching 10 per cent ahead of BBC1.
It added that it was also seeing an improvement in its advertising performance, with total revenue expected to be up from seven to nine per cent between January and April.
While STV takes a share of national advertising on channel 3, it controls both regional and digital advertising.
The firm’s growth fund attracted 91 new SME advertisers last year, which it said helped to drive the improved performance.
As a result of the better-than-expected results, STV Group said that it would pay back the full £1.6m it was granted in furlough support.
It added that it would reinstate a 6p per share dividend as well, taking the full-year payout to 9p per share.
Shares in STV were up 1.85 per cent in morning trading.
Chief executive Simon Pitts said: “STV is coming through the pandemic with confidence. With profit and net debt materially better than expectations, the 2020 financial results we are confirming today are testament to the strength of our business and the commitment and creativity of our people in what has been an extraordinary 12 months.”
STV today also laid out fresh growth ambitions as it looks to shift its focus away from traditional broadcasting and cash in on its digital services.
The London-listed firm said it will invest £30m over the next three years as it looks to expand its studios business and the STV Player.
Last year STV reported a 68 per cent rise in online viewing, while online advertising grew 12 per cent. It also inked deals with Sony and eOne to provide new boxsets for its platform.
The company now aims to double its digital viewing, users and advertising revenue to £20m by the end of 2023.
STV has secured deals to make its streaming service available on platforms such as Sky across the UK, and is now planning a major marketing push for the brand.
In addition, STV set out aims to quadruple its production revenue to £40m as it reduces its reliance on advertising and looks to cash in on surging demand for content.
The firm secured 19 new commissions in 2020, including 16 series, which marked a record. So far this year it has secured Murder Island, a major new format for Channel 4, and new drama series Screw.
Boss Pitts said the channel was focused on producing more content for other networks and was aiming to ramp up the number of shows it sold to streaming giants such as Netflix.
The broadcaster, which last year hit its aim of generating a third of operating profit from outside traditional broadcasting, will hike this target to 50 per cent by the end of 2023.
STV has also reached an agreement in principle to sell its non-core lottery management business, subject to Gambling Commission approval.