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More profitable Metro prepares new online strategy

Well, let's not exaggerate the profit, freesheet giant Metro International is back in the black with a modest profit for Q2, but is still in the red for the first half of 2010 (key headlines here).

However, the world's biggest publisher of free dailies has seen a steady improvement of its financial results for three consecutive quarters and the end of freesheets seems further off than many predicted in 2009 and 2008.

No doubt, the consolidation in the freesheet market, Metro's own divestments and closures as well as an end to costly freesheet wars, most notably in key markets such as Denmark and Sweden, has benefited Metro's bottom line. "We're getting to be a bit more of a boring company, more predictable," said Anders Kronborg, the company's CFO, when I talked to him about Metro's Q1 results in April.

If you look at the company's share price curve for the first half of 2010 there's not much evidence of that so far, but now that it has moved its headquarters back from London to the city where it all started, back in 1995, perhaps some of that Swedish steadiness and predictability, which also may be described as boring in some contexts, will rub off.

At least Metro is using the relocation as a chance to build a new team and re-evaluate its online operations, Metro-boss Per Mikael Jensen told me yesterday. He said the organisation is planning to reveal a new online strategy come August/ September. PaidContent in particular has focused a lot on the company's lacklustre online results.

When confronted with this, Jensen pointed out that this was not in any way unique for Metro. "Point me to a media company that's been successful online apart from the likes of Schibsted, there are not many who have been successful making money online," he said and added that Metro does run profitable online operations in countries like Canada, Mexico, Denmark and Sweden. Now, in the latter country Schibsted took a 35 per cent stake in Metro's operation when it folded its own freesheet, Punkt SE, in 2008. Perhaps some of Schibsted's reputed online savviness will rub off too.

In the meantime, there's Q3 to grapple with. Jensen said Metro is on track to a full year operating profit for 2010, but admitted the third quarter is usually the company's weakest. "If we could remove Q3 from our results we would be happy to, but it is estimated into our full year forecasts. Actually, in Metro we have T-shirts with 'I hate Q3' written on the back," he said.


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