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Daily Mail owner boosted by online advertising growth

A clock face is seen outside of the London offices of the Daily Mail newspaper in London, Britain, April 28, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville

LONDON (Reuters) - The owner of Britain's Daily Mail newspaper said demand for advertising on its popular MailOnline website contributed to a 2 percent rise in underlying first-quarter revenue, keeping it on track to meet its full-year targets.

Daily Mail and General Trust <DMGOa.L> said 10 percent growth in digital advertising more than offset a 1 percent decline in print advertising across its newspaper titles in the three months to the end of December.

MailOnline attracted 12 million visitors a day in the quarter, down 12 percent year-on-year due to reduced indirect traffic from Google and Facebook.

Chief Executive Paul Zwillenberg, who took charge in 2016, has focused on establishing a direct relationship with online readers, which enables the group to sell its own advertising.

"MailOnline has stayed very focused on improving engagement with its audience, bringing direct audiences into its front door, and globalising its programmatic (advertising) operations," he said in an interview on Thursday.

"The result is increasing volumes and increasing yields."

Other digital publishers have relied on Facebook and Google to build audiences, but have in turn seen the tech giants grab the bulk of advertising revenue.

On Wednesday, reports said U.S. digital publisher BuzzFeed was planning to lay off 15 percent of its workforce, while Verizon Communications, which owns Yahoo, said it was laying off 7 percent of the staff in its media unit.

The Daily Mail newspaper, an influential voice in British politics, got a new editor last year when Geordie Greig replaced the long-serving Paul Dacre.

The Daily Mail sold 1.22 million copies in December, down 12 percent year-on-year, according to ABC circulation figures published by Press Gazette.

Shares in DMGT, which has business-to-business and consumer media operations, were trading up 1.5 percent at 586.5 pence in early deals as broker Liberum upgraded to "hold" from "sell".

Analyst Ian Whittaker said the shares had declined by about 25 percent since he downgraded in September, and it was now below his revised target price of 625 pence.

"The trading update demonstrates that the business is performing solidly, if not spectacularly, with the print advertising performance particularly welcome," he said.

(Reporting by Paul Sandle; Editing by Keith Weir)