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Operator of Piccadilly Lights to be sold in £463 million deal

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cean Outdoor, the advertising company that runs the iconic Piccadilly Circus hoardings and the BFI Imax wraparound space by Waterloo, is being bought out by its largest shareholder in a deal which values the company at $580 million (£463 million).

The $10.40-a-share cash offer from Atairos represents a 21.9% premium on Ocean Outdoor’s average share price over the last six months. Management are backing the offer.

The deal was announced alongside the company’s annual results, which showed Ocean Outdoor’s narrowed its losses last year but saw a big bounce back in spending towards the end of the period.

CEO Tim Bleakley said: “The proposal from Atairos can deliver clear benefits to the wider stakeholder group, providing support for Ocean as it continues to invest in its people and technology and expand its scope and reach across new and existing markets.”

Atairos already own 37.9% of Ocean Outdoor. The private equity firm has $6 billion of assets under management, with offices in New York, London and Philadelphia.

Melissa Bethell, partner of Atairos Management, said: “The company’s unique footprint of premium and super-premium sites positions it well to continue to innovate and lead as the industry recovers in a post pandemic world.

“We have long admired Ocean’s experienced management team, talented people and attractive portfolio.”

Ocean Outdoor posted a pre-tax loss of £30.3 million for 2021, significantly less than the £156.5 million loss it made in 2020, a year that included a huge impairment charge linked to the impact of the Covid pandemic.

Revenue in 2021 was also up to £124.4 million, compared to £86.2 million a year previously, as lockdown restrictions eased and advertising spend ticked back up.

Despite another punishing year, Bleakley said the seven countries across Europe in which Ocean operates had reopened by the end of 2021 and the vaccine rollout had emboldened people to return to town centres, boosting ad sales.

This resulted in a record performance for the company in the fourth quarter thanks to a “surge in advertising spend”.

In the UK, the company won a £30 million contract with the Canary Wharf Group to run its outdoor advertising and a £25 million deal with the St James Quarter in Edinburgh.

It also managed a “fan zone” at Westfield London with Team GB as part of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, where people could watch highlights of the games on a big screen and take part in various activities.

The company increased the cash on its balance sheet to £42 million, up from £30 million in 2020, as it sought to strengthen its financial position.

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