Canceled French TV merger echoes in the Low Countries

The fact that the marriage of the TV channels TF1 and M6 will not take place is a line through the account of the owners Bouygues and RTL. But the decision also echoes in the Netherlands, where a similar merger is under scrutiny. Indirectly, Belgian interests are also at stake.

The biggest media marriage in French corporate history has come to naught. On Friday, the broadcasting groups M6 and TF1 announced that their merger plans are being withdrawn. The owners RTL and Bouygues wanted to merge their French television subsidiaries to create a television giant that could take a stand against streaming competitors such as Netflix, Amazon and Disney.

But the TV giant stood on clay feet from the start. Together, the two French channels would control three quarters of the French television advertising market. A figure that smells like a monopoly, and which the French competition watchdog put a stop to.



To get the merger of M6 and TF1 approved, one of the flagship transmitters had to be divested.

The French Autorité de la Concurrence allowed the merger to take place only if one of the two flagships – TF1 or M6 – were to be divested. As a result, the rationale behind the merger expired, as a result of which Bouygues and RTL are now canceling them.

Parallels

The process was also closely monitored in the Netherlands. At about the same time as the French TV merger, a similar TV deal was launched with our northern neighbors. Above the Moerdijk, RTL and Talpa (again) fell into each other’s arms. There too, that could create a local giant, with a market share in television advertising of more than 70 percent.

RTL does not want to draw too heavy parallels. “It is a different matter and a different supervisor,” a spokesperson told the Dutch newspaper Het Financieele Dagblad. For this, the company refers, among other things, to the stronger position of the public broadcaster in the market for TV advertising in the Netherlands, compared to France.

But media experts mainly see similarities. Like their colleagues in France, RTL and Talpa in the Netherlands argue that their dominance in the TV market should be seen in a more modern context, where classic television and online viewing are increasingly intertwined.

If you approach the market in this way, you can argue that the merger does not create a single dominant player, but that a strong local player is better able to defend itself against the emerging multinational violence of the mostly American streamers.



If the Dutch regulator blocks the merger of Talpa and RTL, there may be a second chance for DPG Media.

That reasoning was therefore not followed in France, and the TV market is still considered there on its own. This line was also followed in previous files in other European countries. It seems unlikely that the competition authority in the Netherlands will now change that reasoning.

smiling third

What the Dutch supervisor decides in the future will also be followed closely in Belgium. Before the merger of RTL and Talpa was announced, DPG Media was also interested in acquiring the Dutch RTL channels. Christian Van Thillo’s group is already fully active in print – with de Volkskrant, AD and Trouw among others – and on the radio – with Qmusic. TV is still a blind spot for DPG.

Should the Dutch competition watchdog oblige the potential merger group to divest large chunks or block the merger completely, DPG can present itself as a smiling third party. Suppose that RTL still wants to get rid of its Dutch activities. Who knows, Van Thillo will get a second chance.

Belgian profession

In Belgium, the takeover of the Walloon RTL Belgium by the media groups DPG Media and Rossel was approved at the beginning of this year subject to conditions. But here too the takeover of an RTL subsidiary – price tag: 215 million euros – is still under scrutiny. In June, the media group IPM and the advertising agency Ads & Data lodged an appeal against the decision of the Belgian Competition Authority (BMA).

IPM chief executive François le Hodey then said in parliament that he found the BMA’s decision “very lazy” and that “key points were not analysed”. The first hearing in that appeal will take place in December. However, the appeal does not suspend the decision of the BMA.

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