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7 June 2023

Who could buy the Telegraph Media Group?

Whoever takes on the group’s titles will have a role in shaping the future of British conservatism.

By William Turvill

Lloyds Banking Group is reported to be seeking a buyer for Telegraph Media Group in order to recover debts from loans that were made to its owners, the Barclay brothers. The details remain murky, the situation looks changeable, and some of the coverage has been disputed. But, caveats considered, it looks likely that the Telegraph and the Spectator, which the group also owns, could change hands in the near future. Lloyds and its advisers will find no shortage of interest.

The Telegraph Media Group was reported to have a value of around £200m in 2019. Today, Sky News reports that the Telegraph titles and the Spectator could sell for a combined £600m. This higher figure is in large part down to the Telegraph’s growing base of digital subscribers (the group claims to have around 750,000 paying subscribers across print and digital, with the majority signed up to the website only).

Whoever ends up with the keys to the Telegraph will be purchasing more than just access to hundreds of thousands of paying readers, however. They will be buying power and influence. Like many of its Fleet Street rivals, the newspaper has endured some tough economic conditions over the past decade. But its brand, as one of the UK’s best-known and respected newspapers, has lived on through this tumult. In politics, the Telegraph continues to play a significant role in shaping conservative views. It follows, therefore, that a new owner would immediately become one of the nation’s most influential proprietors.

[See also: Rachel Reeves: Labour’s plan for power]

Assuming, that is, they’re not already a newspaper proprietor. The last time the Telegraph was thought to be up for sale, in 2019, Rothermere’s Daily Mail and General Trust – which already owns the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, Mail Online, the i and the New Scientist – was linked with a move for the group. Rupert Murdoch, who owns the Times, Sunday Times, the Sun, TalkTV and several other broadcast assets in the UK, is rumoured to have shown an interest in both the Telegraph and Spectator at one point. Evgeny Lebedev, the Russian who is the largest shareholder in the Independent and Evening Standard, has also previously shown an interest according to reports. Deals involving any of these three figures would face significant political opposition and regulatory scrutiny. 

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It is easy to envision a new, or up-and-coming media mogul taking an interest. Somebody like Paul Marshall, the hedge-fund entrepreneur who founded UnHerd and is an investor in GB News, could fit the profile. And the Telegraph may attract attention from overseas. In 2019 Steve Bannon, a former adviser to Donald Trump and a co-founder of the right-wing site Breitbart, was reported to have been interested in the Telegraph. A higher-profile, and less right-wing, suitor could be Jeff Bezos, the billionaire founder of Amazon. He bought the Washington Post a decade ago and has also previously been linked with the Telegraph. The other possibility is that the Telegraph – like the Financial Times, which was bought by Japan’s Nikkei in 2015 – could attract the attention of a large corporation (think Germany’s Axel Springer or Belgium’s Mediahuis) that seems more interested in the business of media than playing politics.

Whichever way the deal goes, we should expect a lot of noise and political interest: if the Barclays are indeed forced to part company with the Telegraph, its new owner will play a major role in shaping Britain’s conservative politics for years to come.

[See also: PMQs today: Oliver Dowden outclassed by Angela Rayner]

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