Metro faces up to NI challenge

Metro faces up to NI challenge

Associated Newspapers and News International were involved in an intriguing game of cat and mouse this week over reports that Rupert Murdoch is planning to launch a rival to the free commuters' title Metro.

While News International was remaining tight-lipped over speculation, sources at Associated were taking the threat seriously, with Metro's distribution deal at Railtrack's mainline stations in London due for renewal in March.

However, Associated, also owner of the Mail newspapers and London's Evening Standard, was quick to point out it has a long-term distribution deal at Underground stations, where it claims most commuters pick up their copy of Metro.

Reports this week suggested that the idea of a News International rival on a similar scale to the successful 800,000-circulation Metro was the brainchild of Murdoch himself and that he was planning to outbid Associated for the station contract.

It was said he was planning, not for the first time, to shake-up the UK press market, having failed in recent attempts in other media abroad, such as his bid to buy US satellite giant DirecTV.

Murdoch was also this week linked with a bid to buy Germany's Kirch TV, but has denied reports.

A senior source at Associated confirmed the company was on alert for a possible rival to its commuter title, but added: "If Murdoch is considering launching in the current financial climate, then he should go ahead."

Metro recently published 50,000 issues with no display ads as part of a campaign to attract advertisers as the downturn bites.

Many believe it would be a brave time, even for someone with the power of Murdoch, to launch a new paper. He will remember what happened to a former rival more than a decade ago.

When Robert Maxwell attempted to launch a rival to the Evening Standard by resurrecting the Evening News title, it is said to have cost him £50m.

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