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Telegraph Media Group (TMG) has enjoyed a 77% surge in digital subscription revenues to earn £31.5m in 2020, a £13.7m rise on the year before.

The windfall arose courtesy of 139 thousand additional lockdown subscribers taking the total audited subscriber base to 562 thousand, a 33% increase from December 2019 when the tally stood at 423k.

Despite this, 2020 turnover conspired to disappoint at £235.2m, a decline versus 2019 when turnover stood at £265.8m. This is attributed to a structural decline in print advertising and newspaper circulation, together with the impact of Covid-19.

‘Clear value’ of subscription strategy

  • A bullish Telegraph has seized on positive subscriber numbers in its financial results for 2020 to declare continued progress towards an ambitious goal of signing 10 million additional registered users and 1 million subscribers by 2023.

  • That goal looks achievable, with today’s figures indicating that in the year to December 2020 subscribers rose by 139 thousand to 562 thousand, a 33% increase in percentage terms.

  • More positively for The Telegraph, this recent surge shows no sign of abating, with subscriber momentum thus far being maintained through 2021 to date, surpassing 600 thousand subscribers in March 2021.

  • As an immediate consequence of this success, digital subscription revenue rose 77% to £31.5m in 2020, a jump of £13.7m.

  • The figures may raise some eyebrows among ad execs, however, sceptical of The Telegraph’s departure from the well-established ABC audit system for benchmarking circulation, but the numbers are independently assured by a PWC audit.

  • Another key metric of digital registrants is also heading in the right direction with 6.6 million having logged in as of December 2020, a significant increase from the 5.6 million total just 12 months before.

  • The average revenue per digital subscriber also rose, standing at £193.33 for December 2020 while operating profit before exceptional items rose by £12.2m to stand at £28.3m in 2020 (up from £16.1m the year prior).

  • Through 2020 digital subscriber growth was 79%, with overall subscription revenues of close to £98m.

  • TMG chief executive Nick Hugh remarked: “This demonstrates how our subscription strategy, which recognises the quality and value of our journalism, is working. In 2021 we expect to further continue our strong year-on-year growth.”

  • TMG attribute their success to a ‘subscriber first’ strategy which prioritises investment in journalism, technology platforms and digital operations.

  • As a result, online traffic among subscribers surged 57% last year, outpacing 12% growth from the non-subscribed.

Revenues offset by print

  • Progress made in the digital realm has been insufficient to offset mounting losses from print operations, however, which dragged overall turnover into an unexpected decline for the period, sinking from £265.8m in 2019 to just £235.2m in 2020.

  • The blame for this shortfall is laid squarely on the shoulders of a broader structural decline in print advertising and circulation which shows no sign of bottoming out – compounded by the ravages of Covid-19.

  • In summary, TMG is looking to the year ahead with well-founded caution in the expectation that the lingering impacts of Covid-19 will continue to wreak havoc on advertising, travel and events, to say nothing of everyday competition in a cutthroat industry.

Recognizing that a changed external reality requires commensurate adaptation, media sales teams at The Washington Post, Reach and CNN recently told The Drum how they were forging paths through a jungle of uncertainty.