Three editors with exceptional personalities built its success, but with the generation changeover, the decline began
The epic story of one of France’s most successful radio stations is reconstructed in the book ‘EUROPE 1. De la singularité au déclin (1955-2022)’, written by Denis Maréchal, French journalist and columnist. The broadcaster was founded in 1954 by Charles Michelson, a visionary entrepreneur who was already thinking about Europe and television. But he is an awkward character and the government bars his way, making Sylvain Floirat, owner of the Matra aeronautics group, take his place. Floirat is also a man of great qualities and makes the station grow further. Among his employees is Jean-Luc Lagardère, a young engineer who takes over in the mid-1970s, continuing to develop the winning format and consolidating the station’s success.
An innovative formula
Live programmes, an independent newsroom with great personalities, and political debates are Europe 1’s strengths. The music is no less: jazz, yé-yé culture and rock, pop music, and chanson à texte (so-called because the authors claim the literary quality of the texts). But in 1981 the competition from free radio began and since 2003 the second generation has been at the helm of the company. Arnaud Lagardère, however, made strategic mistakes that aggravated the crisis and prevented the station from being renewed. Meanwhile, digital erodes ratings. In 2020, the group was in crisis and the shareholders challenged Arnaud, who, in order to remain at the helm, ‘opened up’ to Vincent Bolloré’s corporate entry. He starts with 10% but within two years, the Vivendi group patron takes control of the Lagardère group, further downsizing Europe 1. We talked about it on Radio Reporter here, here, and here.
The French group Vivendi takes another step towards control of the Lagardère group. At the end of the takeover bid (which was reopened from 29 May to 7 June 2022), Vincent Bolloré’s group reached 57.35% of the capital. The decision of the Autorité de la Concurrence is now awaited, which will have to pronounce on the 47.33% of voting rights that Vivendi acquired with the takeover bid (it currently holds 22.45%). In the meantime, the group has announced its intention to restructure the ownership and governance of the radio pole, which includes the three national networks Europe 1, RFM and Virgin Radio. The operation will have to be financially neutral, and (as ‘Les Echos’ writes) the activities could be brought together in a limited partnership in which the limited partners would be companies of the Lagardère group and the general partner Arnaud Lagardère.
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.
A few months after entering the capital of the Lagardère group, Vivendi aims to take control: in recent days it has announced its intention to acquire the package of 18% owned by the Amber Capital fund and that it will then present the Opa. Vivendi, which already has 27% of Lagardère’s shares in its portfolio, has set December 15, 2022 as the time horizon, offering 24.1 euros per share, thus recognizing a premium of about 20% compared to the quotations. However, the transaction must obtain the green light from the CSA (Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel), the Autorité des Marchés Financiers and the European Commission. In order to finance the acquisition, Vivendi’s owner Vincent Bolloré sold shares in Universal Music (retaining a sufficient 10% to maintain control), before listing the music giant on the Amsterdam stock exchange. The listing was a success, because compared to the placement fee set at 18.5 euros per share, the shares rose to 26.45 euros (+35%), giving the group a value of around 45.5 billion euros compared to 33 at the placement.
The decision by the German group Bertelsmann to sell two leading broadcasters in terms of ratings (TV M6and 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 theFrench group M6, which the German group Bertelsmann is interested in selling.