The conquest of the French media group by the Breton financier Vincent Bolloré is approaching its final stages. The Opa (the takeover bid aimed at shareholders to invite them to sell their shares to the company that would like to take control), initially scheduled for December 15, 2022, has been brought forward to February 2022. Vivendi will take control of Radio Europe 1, the RMF and Virgin Radio networks and the publishing houses Hachette and Editis. The Antitrust Authority and the CSA (Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel) have yet to pronounce on the acquisition. They could impose the sale of certain assets in the book sector, particularly in France, because with the acquisition of the two big names in publishing and book distribution in France, Vivendi would have a dominant position. This and other aspects are discussed in the Italian monthly Prima Comunicazione, specialized in the world of publishing.
The Lagardère group has unveiled a plan to redeploy 30 journalists and 4 presenters involved in closing 26 Virgin Radio and four RFM locations. Ownership attributes the need for the cuts to the music broadcasters’ declining audience due to competition from streaming platforms. But the CFDT union disputes this, attributing the crisis to the group’s management problems, as the other major generalist radio stations have not lost listeners. On the contrary, the stations that will be closed have sent €3.6 million in dividends to the Lagardère group in 2020.
In the communiqué issued by the union, the workers are acknowledged for their dedication to working as presenters in the morning, especially in “isolated editorial offices“, with net salaries of less than 1,900 euros per month. And fearing the danger of information desertification in certain areas, particularly rural ones, the CSA (Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel) is asked to monitor the merger in progress within the group and compliance with agreements. Indeed, operators are obliged to open local offices in order to broadcast local advertising. ”Certainly, shareholders dream of radio stations without journalists or presenters, but the media will die that way.”
To celebrate the centenary of the first radio broadcast and the 40th anniversary of the liberalisation of the airwaves, the CSA (Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel) has organised a festival to be held between 31 May and 6 June, 2021. Launched by the authority that regulates the French media system, the initiative will involve public and private broadcasters. 2021 marks the centenary of the first broadcast from the Tour Eiffel (24 December 1921) and 40 years since the liberalisation of the FM band (9 November 1981). But innovation will also be celebrated, as the first national multiplex in the digital band (DAB+) will be launched this year. History and archives, special programmes, media education seminars, lectures, open studios: many events will be organised during the week. Information is available here.
The decision by the German group Bertelsmann to sell two leading broadcasters in terms of ratings (TV M6 and radio RTL are both in second place) has opened up competition between major French patrons. Four bids have already been submitted and the competition is expected to be fierce. There are also political interests: in 2022 there will be presidential elections, and the transfer of the two stations could reshape the media landscape. Especially if Vincent Bolloré, who has changed the political line of CNews (all news network) and shifted it to extreme right-wing positions, wins the elections. Details on the protagonists and the political balances at stake in the article of the Italian newspaper ‘Corriere della sera’.
The grip is tightening on the Lagardère Group, propped up months ago (read more about it here) by injections of liquidity by Vincent Bolloré (owner of Vivendi, a multimedia group created around Canal+) and Bernard Arnault (owner of LVMH, an international fashion group). Bolloré would have set his eyes on Europe 1, a generalist radio station very much listened to in France, and would like to absorb it and, in view of the next elections, align it with the positions of Marine Le Pen. Arnault, instead, first hour supporter of President Emmanuel Macron, would be interested in the Journal du dimanche and Paris Match. So in the looming tug-of-war, the money may not be enough to get the radio station into Vivendi’s orbit. An extensive summary can be read on the webmagazine Succede Oggi (in Italian, consultation is free). Prima Comunicazione, on the other hand, also talks about Bolloré’s interest in the French group M6, which the German group Bertelsmann is interested in selling.
At 5pm on 5th of January 1971, FIP started to broadcast in Paris on mediumwave 585 kHz as “France Inter Paris”. This was the beginning of an incomparable radio station, which has still no limits in musical variety. You can hear classical music followed by rock music and afterwards some French chanson – but it is never incoherent or without a transition between the songs. It is a surprising and refreshing station that has survived several belt-tightening moves from Radio France.
And there were quite some changes and cuttings in the past 50 years: a lot of local stations of FIP closed in 2000 and the remaining local outlets had to close at the end of 2020. Several outstanding shows were cancelled (like “Dites 33”, where all songs were played from vinyl), the news flash and the traffic information were removed in the last years. Fortunately, they never removed the good music choice and the female announcers, called “Fipettes”, with their famous voices.
But there are some positive developments since FIP started to broadcast on DAB from Lille, Lyon and Paris. With only ten FM frequencies in bigger cities like Paris, Strasbourg and Marseille, FIP is the smallest FM network of Radio France. In the regions where FIP can be received, they have a big audience – hopefully growing with the upcoming nationwide transmission on DAB.
The 50th anniversary will be celebrated by FIP in its programme with a lot of shows and historical music. Today, between 5 pm and 7 pm, the history of FIP will be narrated with music and anecdotes. Starting on the 9th of January at 8 pm, 50 years of music in 50 hours will be presented each Saturday for 50 weeks at this time.
A full programme schedule can be found here: https://www.fip.fr/les-50-ans-de-fip
FIP and its dedicated web channels can be received worldwide via https://www.fip.fr/
In order to compensate for lower advertising revenues caused by the pandemic, the large networks are making savings like this: Altice has closed down the TV channel RMC Sport and laid off a third of its personnel, RTL has dismissed well known radio hosts and television presenters and NRJ has sold a stake to increase liquidity
In June 2020 the French subsidiary of the Altice group (a multinational with headquarters in Holland), presented a plan to the unions ‘in order to save the media group’. This involved all the divisions in the NextRadioTV group, including channels BFM TV and RMC. The goal is to streamline both organisation and programming by axing between 330 and 380 full-time staffers in addition to 200 freelancers. According to the union representing the employees at Altice CGT (Confederation generale du travail) ‘This drastic cut in personnel is incomprehensible for a profitable group in constant growth, which had a turnover of € 120 million in 2019, a 300% increase in 5 years’.
Unions jump into action
Following a number of strikes and union action, the company softened its stance on June 29th, 2020. It undertook to ‘offer voluntary redundancies to a maximum of 330 staffers and not proceed with layoffs until November 31st, 2021’. It will also try ‘to find alternative employment for staffers who cannot be placed in other positions inside the organisation and find a solution for freelancers’.
Capital gain of € 300 million in 2018
Up to a short time ago the group was flourishing to the point that the owner, Patrick Drahi, and Alan Weill, the Chief Executive Officer of NextRadioTV, made €300 million gross from the capital gain on the sale of some buildings. These four towers, located in the 15th arrondissement in Paris, are the headquarters of SFR (Societe francaise du radiotelephone, the second largest mobile communications company), BFM TV and the daily newspaper Liberation. The 85,800 square metres of floorspace accommodates 7,000 employees. Apparently in 2018 Drahi and Weill bought the buildings in their own names to then resell them to the group at a higher price.
RTL dismiss well known radio hosts and television presenters
The RTL group’s accounts for the first quarter this year closed with a fall of 3.14%. Two months later, the French headquarters announced the dismissals of a number of well known television presenters and radio hosts, the departure of the head of the political service and a cut in the budget of the correspondent in the United States. Details can be found on Jean Marc Morandini’s website
NRJ sells a stake to increase liquidity
Despite its leading position in the French market, NRJ is also feeling the pinch. On June 24th, 2020, NRJ sold a 5% stake in Euro-Information Telecom for €50 million. The company stated that the sale proceeds ‘will be used for the needs of the group’s business‘. See details here
Radio stations in France have also been hit hard by the impact of Covid-19 according to SIRTI, the union of independent radio stations, that has been monitoring the situation by carrying out monthly surveys. Up to April 2020 75% of the radio stations had not applied for the advantages of the ‘partial employment’ scheme (teleworking is not viable for 50% of the staff) because of the bureaucratic procedures being too complicated according to 39% of the respondents. No one had been dismissed (the 112 members in the survey answered) but if the crisis was to last longer, 55% planned to apply for aid from the solidarity fund that has been set up for businesses. More than half of the respondents did not have the resources to face further financial difficulty. After recording a drop of 56% in advertising in March (-32% for the national radio stations) a collapse was foreseen in April: -78% (-75% for national broadcasters).
The situation worsens
In the second survey carried out in May 2020, 72% were not confident of resuming normal business quickly, and 38% believed that the crisis could jeopardise businesses in the short term. A return to normality, according to 95% of the respondents, would not happen before the beginning of the academic year, and for 21% not before the beginning of 2021. The reason for this was because advertisers, having been hit hard during the crisis, either cancelled their advertising campaigns or negotiated lower prices. More than one out of two radio stations have had to apply for bank loans and one in three has applied for aid from the solidarity funds or other means of support.
Cutting personnel is inevitable
In order to curb the number of dismissals, radio stations are considering implementing the partial employment scheme to balance their books and 32% predict extending this policy to the end of August 2020. 36% have not renewed or have terminated fixed-term contracts and have terminated employment for those employees working probationary periods. However these measures are not sufficient and if financial aid is not available by the end of the year, each radio station will most probably have to cut between one to three jobs. Due to the crisis there will be a reduction in events and concerts. 41% of radio stations predict reducing the number of events they organise at local levels.
Requests to the government
In June 2020 SIRTI estimated that three out of four radio stations will have to cut jobs in the next few weeks. Annual revenues from advertising could be down by at least 25% (€35 million) according to a more optimistic prognosis but could drop by €45 million if investments in advertising does not restart at the beginning of the academic year. The union is asking for a waiver of the last three months payment of both the employee’s and employer’s social security contributions. This is believed to amount to €10 million which could compensate for about a third of lost revenues.
Even in the midst of a global crisis, deals continue to happen. French mass media conglomerate, Vivendi, recently acquired 10% of Lagardère; a move that helped to strengthen the French position in the market. Following Vivendi, Groups Arnault also enters into Lagardere.
In Italy, the Agnelli family holdings company sealed the deal on the acquisition of Gedi, endowing them with three radio networks.
After acquiring the initial 10% in Lagardère, in May 2020 Vivendi increased its shareholder equity to 16.4%. The move strengthens the position of Arnauld Lagadère, in control of the group, that had just foiled the attack of the Amber fund. The firm, and Lagardère’s biggest stakeholder, had accused him of bad management and wanted to change directors.
After the sudden death of Lagadère’s founder, Jean-Luc, in 2003, the multimedia empire has since shrunk. The following quote from Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera in the article ‘Francia, Sarkozy e Bolloré salvano (per ora) l’erede del regno Lagardère’ sums up the move well:
‘This acquisition is a long-term financial investment reflecting Vivendi’s confidence in the future prospects of the French group which enjoys international leadership positions in its businesses and which, like many others, is experiencing difficult times at the moment.’
To give some context to Vivendi’s owner, Vincent Bolloré is an accomplished leader. In December, 2016, he attempted to buy out the Italian Mediaset channel (publishing, three TV networks, pay TV and five radio stations), gaining up to 25.75% of the share capital and 26.77% of the voting rights.
Change of ownership for Italian radio networks
With the purchase of Gedi by the Exor group, three radio stations, (m2o, Radio Capital and Radio Deejay) will be passed onto the Agnelli family holdings company.
Based in the Netherlands, Exor has a capital worth € 24 billion. In addition to owning Ferrari, they are also the largest shareholder of the FCA-Fiat Chrysler Group.
Cuts for five major broadcasters in Europe are on their way. While in Italy some radio stations are asking their listeners for help.
Austria: ORF is cutting outgoings
The director general of ORF, Alexander Wrabetz, has announced cuts of € 75 million are to be made by the end of 2021. These will be implemented in all areas in the company, from equipment to the cost of personnel. This year the broadcasting station is predicting losses that go from a minimum of € 28.6 million to up to € 54 million, should the worst scenario play out. The budgets allocated for major events will not be touched (€ 40 million for the rights of the European Football Championship and the Olympics). This is also the case for other investments which include digitalisation. Click here for more details from the article on Horizont.
France: Cost cutting plans for the public radio causes controversy
Cuts in the budget had already been decided on in 2018, in a period long before the present crisis. The Government had demanded a reduction of € 190 million in funds to public broadcasters (by 2022). € 20 million of spending cuts were destined for Radio France and in 2019 the CEO Sibyle Veil had prepared a plan that involved cutting 250 jobs. This provoked the longest strike in the history of public radio. The strike lasted 63 days (in total) during the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020. The trade unions consider the cuts unjustified and after a period of truce due to the Covid-19 crisis, the unrest could restart.
Germany: NDR raises the crossbar by € 60 million
The German broadcasting company Norddeutscher Rundfunk, NDR, wants to cut € 60 million more than the € 240 million that had been already decided on for the next four years.
The director, Joachim Knuth, is not going to reduce personnel but will not be employing new staff for 200 vacant positions. Furthermore, programmes and a series of events will be cancelled. Among those to go are crime series, entertainment and game shows on TV. Click here for more details from the article on Der Spiegel.
Italy: Onda d’Urto is banking on subscriptions
Radio Onda d’Urto in Brescia has launched a campaign for subscriptions to compensate for the missing revenues caused by the probable cancellation of the Festival of Radio Onda. The event, that is to be held in August, is the main source of finance for the broadcaster and even if it is not cancelled, it will be much smaller.
United Kingdom: £ 125 million have gone ‘missing’ at the BBC
The coffers of the public broadcasting station, BBC, are down £ 75 million due to
a delay: Listeners over seventy five were due to pay TV fees from June 1st, 2020, but this has been postponed to August 1st, 2020. This amount rises further because of losses caused by a drop in advertising and the postponement of a plan to reduce the workforce by cutting 450 jobs. According to the director general, Tony Hall, the cuts need to total £ 125 million. Upper management salaries will be frozen until August 2021 and a freeze will be put on all recruitment that is not indispensable. Other TV stations are not doing any better. ITV, free-to-air, has made a cut of £ 100 million to their budget and Channel 4 (a public broadcaster) has made a cut of £ 150 million. Further details can be found here.
Spain: SER cuts cost of personnel
Spains main network, Cadena SER, owned by the Prisa group (they own the daily newspaper El Pais and have business interests in 24 countries) is reducing the cost of labour. Of the personnel employed by the radio, 256 workers have been laid off until July 12th, 2020, (on unemployment benefit) while another 924 have a salary reduction of 10% until December 31st, 2020. Cadena Ser has 202 stations and the Prisa group also owns Cadena 100 and Los 40 Principales.
Click here for details in the article of El Español.