”In 2023, our net sales growth and operational EBIT were driven by strong performance in Learning, while Media Finland managed to partially mitigate the impact of lower advertising demand and cost inflation on its financials. In my new role as the President and CEO of Sanoma, I am very much looking forward to working together with our great team to further strengthen our position in European K12 learning services, to deliver on our key initiatives, including Program Solar, and to continue the successful digital transformation in our media business.
In Learning, the year was characterised with strong 6% organic growth, driven by the successful second year of the LOMLOE curriculum renewal in Spain, a minor curriculum renewal in Poland and inflation mitigating price increases across our operating countries. Together, these also resulted in strong improvement of Learning’s operational EBIT. The integration, sales and financial performance of our latest acquisition, the K12 learning content business in Italy, proceeded successfully and in accordance with our plans.
In October, we initiated a Learning-wide process and efficiency improvement programme, named Solar, to ensure that we use the benefits from our increased scale and the best practices from our recent acquisitions in an optimal way. Supported by Program Solar, Learning’s operational EBIT margin excl. PPA is expected to reach its long-term target level of 23% in 2026. First implementation phase of Solar has already been underway, focusing on post-curriculum optimisation especially in Spain and Poland, and the program is on track.
In-line with our expectations, net sales and operational EBIT of Media Finland decreased mainly due to lower advertising sales. The highlights of the year include clear growth in the number of digital subscriptions, mainly attributable to our SVOD service Ruutu+. Initiatives to extend and improve our customer offering led to a minor increase in the total subscription base compared to the end of 2022. Careful price increases across the portfolio during the year supported subscription sales. With continuing active cost containment, the team succeeded to partially mitigate impact of the cost and salary inflation.
During the year, we paid special attention to active working capital management in Learning, with the aim of mitigating the impact of increased seasonality of the business and improve cash conversion. The Group’s free cash flow improved significantly compared to the underlying free cash flow in 2022, which excluded the one-time positive impact due to the timing of the acquisition in Italy and Germany. Our leverage improved to 2.8, being within the long-term target of below 3.0, and providing a solid basis going forward.