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APN chief vows to win back ground
Weekend Australian, Australia  by Dana Mccauley
21 Apr 2018
Business News - Page 27 - 599 words - ID 942981333 - Photo: Yes - Type: News Item - Size: 305.00cm2

APN Outdoor Group's new chief executive, James Warburton, has defended the media company's performance, promising to win back market share after losing key contracts, and renewing his commitment to acquisitions.

The former Ten boss answered shareholder accusations the company had "dropped the ball" and fallen behind its nearest competitor when it came to acquisitions and revenue, telling APN's annual meeting in Sydney yesterday: "We have made a number of changes going forward and we're very confident of the path we're on.

"There is no doubt the company was impacted during the second half of the year in relation to the merger that didn't happen," Mr Warburton said, referring to APN's planned merger with rival oOh!Media, thwarted by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission in May last year.

But he said the time to go back on the acquisition trail was drawing near, with activity expected in the second half after finalising a string of contract renewals, including deals announced yesterday.

Transport for Brisbane, Transdev Melbourne and Adelaide and Parafield airports are the latest in a number of renewals unveiled in recent months, including Sydney Trains and Melbourne Metro Trains.

"This means our contract renewal profile risk is very low - yet the cycle for our competitors has large maturity profile risk," he said. "And that gives us the opportunity where it makes financial sense to grow our top line." The comments came after questioning by the Australian Shareholders Association's Gary Barton, who noted the negative revenue impact of APN's decision not to renew its contract with Yarra Trams, and its loss of Canberra Airport to QMS.

Mr Warburton said that since taking the helm in January, his "streamlined" executive team whittled down to seven direct reports - had "refocused on improving the business performance as quickly as is possible".

"We have huge upside opportunities in our portfolio as well as in other formats and other locations within the outdoor industry which we have never pursued," he said. "We've been passive from a sales perspective and we've let the assets speak for themselves rather than lead the market - which you'll see us start to do." On APN's market share, Mr Warburton noted oOh!Media's acquisition of companies including Junkee Media and Executive Channel in 2016, "all of which added back into their revenue".

"If you strip that out, I'm not sure it's all that different in terms of growth profile," he said.

Mr Warburton outlined his strategy to stabilise APN in the short term before pursuing the long-term aim of "winning our appropriate revenue share back" by investing in data and pursuing growth through winning tenders and acquiring suitable businesses.

"We have an aspiration to evolve beyond our current asset portfolio and explore new platforms to deliver customers that our audiences want," he said.

The out-of-home industry is said to be ripe for disruption in the wake of reforms to media ownership laws.

In a trading update, Mr Warburton said the out-of-home market remained "robust" and APN had enjoyed a strong first quarter, with year-to-date revenue in line with company expectations. "We see the market being very strong in the immediate term," he said.

"For the half, in headline numbers we see ourselves being up low single digits - when you exclude the Yarra Trams factor, we see that we'll be up mid-single digits." APN shares fell 3.21 per cent to $5.12 yesterday.

V1 - AUSE01Z01MA We've been passive from a sales perspective and we've let the assets speak for themselves rather than lead the market - which you'll see us start to do.

JAMES WARBURTON, APN OUTDOOR GROUP

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