03/04/2015 11:33 EST | Updated 05/04/2015 05:59 EDT

Torstar hopeful tablet app will help it connect with younger audience

TORONTO - Torstar Corp. (TSX:TS.B) is hopeful its new tablet app will help young readers connect with the Toronto Star's brand, as the country's largest newspaper struggles with declining print advertising revenue.

"We remain confident in our expectation that the new tablet application will significantly broaden our reach and engage a younger audience in a unique environment that advertisers will value," publisher John Cruickshank told investors during a conference call Wednesday.

Cruickshank said the app, which the newspaper is developing with the help of Montreal's La Presse newspaper, is on track to launch this fall.

The Toronto Star was encouraged by the Quebec publisher's success with developing its own tablet addition, La Presse+, a process that cost $40 million and took over two years. The French-language newspaper says its app, which launched in 2013, has attracted a younger audience that use it for an average of 45 minutes per day.

"Their experience is they've managed to broaden their audience base and certainly increase engagement and that's our goal," said Torstar president and chief executive David Holland.

Costs associated with getting the app off the ground are expected to be in the realm of $8 million to $9 million this year, though there will be ongoing costs including the underlying infrastructure and the staff.

The newspaper is also contemplating how to spend the proceeds of the sale of romance novel publisher Harlequin to News Corp last year. The sale produced a pre-tax gain of $224.6 million.

"We really are committed to employing this capital back in the business," Holland said. "My sense is that there's a will to be very patient as we try to do that."

The comments came as Torstar reported a fourth-quarter profit attributable to shareholders of $20.6 million or 26 cents per share, compared with a profit of $21.1 million or 26 cents per diluted share a year ago.

The newspaper publisher said segmented revenue was $244.9 million, down $26.6 million or 9.8 per cent from the same year-earlier period, mostly reflecting lower print advertising revenue.

For the full year, Torstar reported net income attributable to shareholders of $172.7 million or $2.15 per diluted share, compared with a net loss of just under $28 million or 35 cents per share in the same 2013 period.

Holland noted that the company "continued to feel the effects of a challenging print advertising environment."

He said the company anticipates continued pressure on print advertising revenues in 2015 but remains "committed to making the investments necessary to our future as we adapt to this evolving media environment."