French conglomerate Vivendi, which lumbered through much of the 2000s, weighed down by disparate holdings, has reintroduced itself as a slimmed down and sleek corporation focused on media and entertainment.
Following the sales of telecom units in France and Brazil as well as video game maker Activision Blizzard, Vivendi is now the parent company of only two firms: major music label Universal Music Group and French pay TV channel Canal Plus. New chairman Vincent Bolloré is not limiting himself to those interests, though, as Vivendi looks to expand within their media sweet spot.
In early December, Reuters reported that Vivendi was looking closely at acquiring Roularta Media Group, which owns a package of around 10 French print publications. Roularta, a Belgian company, bought the magazines for around €210 million back in 2006, and last year reported revenues of just over €500 million from its print business. Titles include L’Express, a weekly news magazine which was briefly owned by Vivendi through parent company Havas a decade ago, along with L’Expansion and Maison Francaise.
Vivendi’s recent sales have meant a rare 11 percent increase in the share price, as shareholders anticipate that as much as $7 billion of the more than $20 billion in asset sales will be returned to investors. The rest, according to Bolloré, will be used for acquisitions of the kind seen here. Many shareholders, though, will ask a central question: Why would Vivendi look to acquire print magazines in an environment that is increasingly focused on the digital sector?
In an interview with RTL Radio that spurred the report, Bolloré said that he envisioned Vivendi becoming the corporation of note across all media sectors.
“Vivendi’s aim is to become a French version of German media group Bertelsmann, meaning to bring together all types of French content whether it be print, television, or web,” Bolloré said. So obviously if there are opportunities that arise, we will seize them.”
Bolloré went on to say that while he was excited about the content purveyors Vivendi currently owns, music leader Universal and Canal Plus, which is growing in France as well as emerging markets like Africa, the chairman things Roularta’s print holdings represent a leader in that sector as well.
Vivendi may also be looking at the purchase from a reputational point of view as much as a revenue one. Since Roularta announced itself on the sale block, many media groups have indicated interest, such as Newsco, Numericable and Agence-France Presse (AFP). Does Vivendi see the purchase as a way to reassert itself in the French and European media market?
These firms and Vivendi see not only the potential of Roularta’s publications on the print side, but also must be impressed by many of the magazines’ successful pivot to the digital realm. L’Express, for example, has reported 2 million monthly web visitors, a strong number when matched with its similar print subscriber base.