The UK-based magazines group Immediate Media has plunged deeper into live events with the £10m acquisition of Upper Street Events. It is the organiser of consumer exhibitions including The Cycle Show, the Knitting and Stitching shows, Festival of Quilts, Country Living Fairs, Adventure Travel Show and The London Cruise Show. The events are said to be attended by 250,000 people and supported by 3,700 exhibitors.
Upper Street, which has been owned by Living Bridge private equity since 2014, was originally established 32 years ago by the London venue, the Business Design Centre, from which it was de-merged in 2009. In 2017, the organiser made £1m EBITDA on revenues of £10m. But its financial performance of recent years has been erratic, to say the least.
By integrating Upper Street into existing operations, Immediate will more than double the £1m profits of the exhibition company – even before creating new events. The publisher (which was largely built from the portfolio of the former BBC Magazines) claims to reach over 22m UK consumers monthly across a range of special interest sectors, including Food, Cycling, Parenting, Weddings and Craft. In the craft sector alone, Immediate reaches over 4m people every month across print, digital and broadcast media.
It is 12 months since the Munich-based, privately-owned Hubert Burda Media acquired Immediate from Exponent private equity for £270m (5-6 x EBITDA) during a year when some 50% of all UK magazine publishing changed hands. Immediate is a real star in UK media, steadily growing profits from print as well as digital, events, e-commerce and even broadcast.
This week’s exhibitions deal further demonstrates the parent company’s commitment to expanding in the UK market. Last year, it paid an estimated £30m to acquire the £25m-revenue BBC Good Food, which has the biggest cross-media reach of any UK magazine brand, with 22m monthly uniques, 1.3m magazine readers, and 250,000 exhibition visitors. But Immediate’s 95-year-old Radio Times (the world’s first broadcast listings magazine) may still account for almost 50% of the company’s profit. It is the UK’s third most popular paid-for magazine – and far the most profitable.
It’s no accident that the ambitious, versatile Immediate Media is itself the UK’s most profitable magazine publisher even though at least two of its rivals have more revenue. It will now be interesting to see whether it can make a substantial business from the kind of live events that almost every consumer media group talks about.
There was not a long line of rival bidders for Upper Street Events: consumer exhibitions are no match for their highly-prized B2B cousins. But few would bet against Immediate proving (again) how to capitalise on famous brands that were once just magazines.