France’s top news channel BFM-TV sold to billionaire Rodolphe Saadé

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Rodolphe Saadé, CMA CGM director general, Marseille, June 27, 2023.

The rumors had been circulating for months, fueled by Altice owner and founder Patrick Drahi’s pressing need for fresh money and CMA CGM chief executive Rodolphe Saadé’s desire to consolidate the press group he is in the process of building. On Friday, March 15, the rumor became reality with Altice (which owns the BFM- and RMC-branded TV and radio stations) announcing that it was selling 100% of its media arm to the freight and logistics group. The move was announced to union representatives at 10:30 am.

The transaction comes as a shock in a French media landscape still groggy from the abortive merger between two of the country’s biggest TV channels, M6 with TF1, in September 2022, and the subsequent failure, a few weeks later, of the sale of M6 by the Bertelsmann group.

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It’s also a major coup for CGA CGM’s Whynot Media subsidiary, which is becoming a major media player. It was formed from the regional daily press group La Provence (owning regional papers La Provence, Corse Matin), acquired by CGA CGM at the end of 2022. It then acquired La Tribune, a digital business news platform with regional coverage, in May 2023, around which the weekly paper La Tribune Dimanche was founded in fall 2023.

By buying BFM-TV, the most-watched news channel in France, the shipping giant also confirms its ambition to remain rooted in France’s regions, as the channel has 11 regional outlets. Whynot Media also has a 10% stake in M6 and another in the online video platform Brut.

Time is running out

“CMA CGM’s ambition is to become a leading media group,” said Laurent Guimier, then head of the media subsidiary, in December. At the time, the former journalist had been spotted at BFM-TV’s office, lending credibility to the rumor. An imminent deal seemed all the more likely as the window of opportunity for a sale seemed about to close.

The procedure for awarding broadcasting authorizations to 15 channels, including BFM-TV, has already begun (applications must be submitted by May 15). Given that only the owner of a channel can apply for a frequency and that a transfer does not happen with a snap of the fingers, time is of the essence.

Even if the French competition authority has to give the go-ahead to the deal (it is involved as soon as a company’s sales exceed €50 million), the situation seems simpler than when Saadé bid for M6, in 2022. Whynot Media owns neither a TV channel nor a radio station that could see it achieve an over-dominant position on the market. As for the Regulatory Authority for Audiovisual and Digital Communication (ARCOM), “it obviously can’t block an operation of this type,” noted one observer. “If it receives an application for approval of a change of control, it will have to review it.”

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