Worldwide Advertising: Country Profiles - France/In France, President Chirac must modernise the economy if the nation is to enter the EMU. In the coming battles, the French media plan to be on the winning side. By Steve Shipside
By STEVE SHIPSIDE, campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 30 May 1997 12:00AM
As the French prepare to go to the polls at the end of May, France is taking stock of developments since Jacques Chirac came to power in 1993. For many, it’s not proving a pleasant experience.
As the French prepare to go to the polls at the end of May, France
is taking stock of developments since Jacques Chirac came to power in
1993. For many, it’s not proving a pleasant experience.
The past year was marked by crippling strikes and industrial action by
truckers, Air France staff, fishermen, postal workers and the healthcare
sector. Baron Hausman’s boulevards were packed with protesters after
Renault, reeling from a FF5.2 billion loss on the year, announced the
closure of a factory in Belgium, with heavy job losses. The news that
the hi-tech company, Thomson Multimedia, was being offered to a Korean
company for the less-than-princely sum of one franc led to further
outraged demonstrations in Paris.
France is having trouble adjusting to the increasing globalisation of
the market. The cheapness of foreign (including British) labour is being
blamed for the woes of French industry. The employed are turning to
unions to protect their jobs and standards of living. The truck drivers’
strike was over the right to retire at age 55. The strikers won, making
it more likely that others will follow, creating a situation where the
government must either raise taxes or pass the cost on to employers. Not
surprisingly, the Kent development board reports an increasing number of
French companies, particularly in light industry and computing, setting
up shop in the UK to benefit from the less restrictive labour
EU figures show that French unemployment has hit a post-war record of
12.8 per cent. That’s higher than Germany or Italy, and way ahead of
Britain’s 6 per cent. Things are not about to get any easier - the
reason Chirac has called the election is to get a mandate for the
austerity programme required to achieve the criteria for a single
currency. To do that, he has to get the public deficit down to 3 per
cent of GDP. For a country where government spending represents half of
the GDP (as opposed to under 40 per cent and falling in the UK), that is
going to require some rigorous belt-tightening. Chirac is going to have
to curb spending, take on the unions, and tackle a national mentality
used to a tightly regulated job market and heavy state subsidies.
Extracting himself, and his country, from this mess will not be
Chirac has publicly complained of the difficulty of changing such a
profoundly conservative country. But change is afoot, and media and
communications companies are among the first to take the plunge.
Switch on the TV in France and you won’t have long to wait before you
see an earnest and long-winded ad that painstakingly explains France
Telecom’s financial performance and prospects. For Thatcher’s children,
used to Sid and cashing in, this unfamiliarity with privatisation is
laughable, but the important thing is that it is happening. Wholesale
privatisation is unlikely, but the deregulation of the telecoms industry
should help open up the French market and give a boost to the slow
adoption of online media. Internet provider/publishers are struggling:
Infonie, the leading light of the talent in this arena, has just posted
a FF149 million loss despite the allure of Asterix online. Hopefully,
privatisation will help turn that around.
French homes are now being bombarded with advertising for the
forthcoming digital satellite channels. The French are already familiar
with set-top decoders thanks to Canal Plus, the premium channel that
pioneered the way more than ten years ago with a heady mix of sport,
film and hard-core pornography. Since then, Canal Plus has thrived and
diversified, spawning Canal Plus Multimedia and the innovative Canal C,
a channel dedicated to computer information. Canal Plus remains one of
the good news stories of the French market, breaking into the top ten
media companies in Europe and with a net result up 11 per cent to FF741
million last year, with turnover up to FF11.58 billion in 1996. The
knock-on effect on the print press is already visible with the recent
launch of Television Monthly, which has a circulation of 400,000.
Opportunities like these are welcome in a hard-pressed print sector. The
national press, in particular, is having a tough time of it. Infomatin,
launched two years ago, has closed. Liberation, the paper founded by
Jean Paul Sartre, is desperately hunting for finance after announcing a
FF180 million loss. France Soir is widely tipped to close. Fifty years
ago, Le Monde Diplomatique reports, a Parisian could accompany his
coffee and croissants with any of 28 titles which sold a total of 6
million copies a day. Today, the breakfast browser has just seven to
choose from, amassing 1.3 million copies between them. Fewer competitors
has not led to richer pickings. The certified ad revenue for Le Monde in
1995 was reported as being no higher than the figure for 1986.
Tellingly, the area taking the biggest hit is that of recruitment
According to Havas’ Europub survey, the total French adspend did rise
last year by 2.5 per cent, although that was weaker than the previous
year which saw 3.4 per cent growth (7.3 per cent in the UK). The real
lesson is a shift in the way the French consume their media. There is a
buoyant news magazine market, with French readers abandoning dailies in
favour of monthlies such as L’Express. But the real winner is
television, with terrestrial channels rising to seven from five two
years ago, and an average day’s viewing reaching up to five hours
(including satellite and cable options), as opposed to two hours
listening to the radio and less than 30 minutes reading.
The great hope of all the media in France right now is next year’s
football World Cup which should help fuel the audio-visual markets and,
with a bit of luck, the press as well. Just to prove the point, no less
than eight new football titles have appeared on the market. Fever pitch
is coming to France.
This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk
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