Power Corp. says La Presse+ tablet product is garnering a lot of interest

TORONTO – Power Corp. says it’s fielding calls from large American and European media companies interested in its digital newspaper product, La Presse+.

“Everybody’s calling because everybody’s having a very, very difficult time. In the paper industry, it’s tough right now,” co-CEO Andre Desmarais told reporters following the company’s annual meeting in Toronto on Friday.

The Montreal daily La Presse, which is owned by Power Corp., spent roughly $40 million developing the product, which is a digital version of the newspaper that can be viewed on tablets for free.

Since its launch in 2013, La Presse+ has boasted success in getting younger readers to engage with its content.

Power Corp. (TSX:POW) recently sold all of the French-language regional newspapers in Quebec that were operated by its subsidiary, Gesca, in order to focus on launching the new digital project.

“There’s only so much you can ask a management to do and do it effectively,” Desmarais said of the decision to sell the papers to a new media company launched by former federal Liberal cabinet minister Martin Cauchon.

“These are good papers. The issue is the time to really be able to manage them effectively. We really thought that they’d be better on their own, being managed by a separate team, and then we can focus all of our energy on La Presse+.”

The Montreal-based holding company also reported its first-quarter financial results Friday. Net earnings attributable to shareholders increased to $354 million or 77 cents per share in the first quarter from 242 million or 53 cents in same year-earlier period.

The company also boosted its quarterly dividend to 31.13 cents per share from 29 cents.

Desmarais said Power Corp. has avoided raising its dividend in recent years as it waited out the global financial crisis and recession.

“We’re very risk averse,” said Desmarais. “We’re very cautious. And you don’t know where this recession was going to end. Every year seemed to be another precipice. Our feeling was, when there’s a storm, batten down the hatches.”

Now that the economy has shown some signs of improvement, Power Corp. is turning its attention to growth, planning several bolt-on acquisitions.

“We feel we’ve done well through the storm, and now we feel pretty confident we have a strong position we can build off of,” said Desmarais.

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