CCPC requires commitments to secure approval for acquisition of The Midland Tribune

October 9, 2019

The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) has cleared, subject to binding commitments, the proposed acquisition of certain business assets of the Midland Tribune Limited by Formpress Publishing Limited (Formpress).  Formpress is owned by Mediaforce Holdings Limited (Mediaforce).

Following notification on 9 May 2019, the CCPC undertook an extended Phase 1 investigation to establish whether the proposed transaction would result in a substantial lessening of competition for goods or services in the State. This involved working with the parties along with extensive engagement with a number of third parties, including customers and competitors.

Formpress owns and operates a number of local and regional newspaper and digital newspaper titles in the State. Mediaforce, which owns Formpress, also owns Mediaforce Ireland Limited (Mediaforce Ireland) which acts as a conduit for the channelling of national advertising to local and regional newspapers in the State.  Midland Tribune is the owner and operator of The Midland Tribune and The Tullamore Tribune newspaper and their digital newspaper titles.

In the course of the investigation, the CCPC was concerned that the proposed transaction may impact on competition due to Formpress and Mediaforce Ireland belonging to the same group. In particular, the CCPC identified potential competition concerns that:

  • Mediaforce Ireland could potentially discriminate in favour of its own group of newspapers and digital titles by channelling national advertiser’s budgets allocated to local and regional newspapers and digital newspaper titles to its own group titles, to the detriment of competing titles; and
  • Post transaction, should there be any overlap in management, employees or roles/functions between Mediaforce Ireland and Formpress, there would be the potential for the exchange of commercially sensitive information about competitor newspapers and digital newspaper titles.

To address these potential competition concerns, both Mediaforce Ireland and Formpress submitted proposals to the CCPC. Mediaforce Ireland committed to directing the advertising business received from advertisers and advertising agencies to newspaper titles on a strictly fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory basis and to apply equivalent conditions in equivalent circumstances to all Formpress newspaper titles and non-Formpress newspaper titles.

The parties also committed to a separation of management and non-disclosure of information. This commitment is intended to prevent the exchange of commercially sensitive information about competitor newspaper titles between Mediaforce Ireland and Formpress.

To ensure compliance with these commitments, an independent monitoring trustee will be appointed, which will have all the rights and powers necessary to monitor compliance with the commitments.  The role of the monitoring trustee also includes consideration of how Mediaforce Ireland addresses any issues raised by third parties in relation to the non-discrimination commitment.

Following detailed consideration and further analysis, the CCPC concluded that these commitments were sufficient and effective in addressing the competition concerns identified. The commitments form part of the CCPC’s determination to clear the proposed transaction, which makes them legally binding on the parties.

Following the issuing of the CCPC’s determination, the parties must submit a separate notification to the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment. Section 28 of the Competition Act 2002 as amended, sets out the process by which the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment will assess the merger separately in relation to media plurality.

Further details of the CCPC’s announcement are available here.

Ends

Additional Information

Formpress is a private company limited by shares, incorporated in the State in 2014, with its registered office at 30 Hatch Lane, Dublin 2. Formpress is owned by Iconic Newspapers Limited which is in turn owned by Mediaforce. Formpress owns and operates a number of local/regional newspaper and digital newspaper titles in the State.

Mediaforce is also the owner of Mediaforce Ireland. Mediaforce Ireland was established in 2003 and acts as conduit for national advertisers and advertising agencies to channel national advertising spend to local/regional newspaper and digital newspaper titles in the State.

Midland Tribune Limited is a private company limited by shares, incorporated in the State in 2003. Midland Tribune Limited is a wholly owned subsidiary of Alpha Publications. Midland Tribune is the owner and operator of The Midland Tribune and The Tullamore Tribune newspaper and their digital newspaper titles.

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