European Media: Europe's Media Challengers

A host of pioneering and visionary operators are blazing a trail in their sectors and successfully taking on the European media establishment. SPAIN

Spain's top media contender is going underground. 20 Minutos, the leader in a burgeoning freesheet sector, is wooing readers and media buyers across metro stations and rail hubs in Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Seville and Zaragoza.

"It's not just taking readers from paid-for newspapers but increasing the number of people who read papers in general," Jose Manuel Folgado, the press buying director at Media Planning Group, says. Quite something, given that only 39 per cent of Spanish adults read a daily newspaper (compared with 64 per cent in the UK). With a weekday print run of 655,000 copies, the paper's superior editorial content and enviable distribution network make it the advertisers' favourite, ahead of Metro. It also scores against the paid-for dailies El Pais, El Mundo and ABC by being cheaper, more flexible on formats and better for tightly targeted campaigns.

FHM, published by Focus, stands out from a host of launches this year. A TV and outdoor campaign helped shift 700,000 copies of its inaugural March edition and crack a market Maxim failed to claim a couple of years ago.

Maxim reappeared a couple of months after FHM but has not had the same impact, according to Joan Foncuberta, Media Planning's head of magazine buying. "FHM impressed us because we never thought there would be that many readers for it," he says.

By May, sales had dropped to 265,000 copies but that had not prevented the 180-page monthly gaining favour with advertisers such as Adidas and Levi's.

Big-name advertisers such as Barclays are also flocking to Wanadoo, which has stormed to third place behind MSN and Yahoo! in web-user rankings after merging with the information portal Eresmas. "It's been improving its channels and launching new ones where other portals just tend to have sub-sections," Pablo Fraga, the account manager at the digital communications agency Profero, says. - By Jason Deign

ITALY

In a country where TV takes 55 per cent of adspend, and where Silvio Berlusconi's Mediaset and the state-owned broadcaster Rai together control around 90 per cent of the market, it is no surprise that Sky Italia is seen as the challenger. The year-old digital pay-TV venture from News Corporation now has more than 2.6 million subscribers. Alessandro Cortellazzo, the chief executive of MediaCom Italy, which does media planning for Sky, says: "The advent of Sky is the most important media phenomenon of the past ten years in Italy. It has the potential to change completely the way advertisers invest in television. They can plan their TV ad campaigns by focusing on specific targets rather than on mass audiences as they do now." Eugenio Bona,the chairman and chief executive of Media Italia, concurs that Sky will become a prime mover as digital takes over from analogue television. "Rai and Mediaset dominate Italian broadcasting and will continue to do so for many years to come. But Sky certainly has what it takes to challenge them," he says.

Walter Hartsarich, the chairman and chief executive of Aegis Media Italia, believes commercial radio is a hotbed of innovation and creativity as it seeks to exploit its niche among young Italians. "Sales houses of the likes of Radio Dee Jay and Radio Dimensione Suono have been actively creating 'brand experiences'. Names such as Unilever, Citroen and L'Oreal are sponsoring and promoting music events around the country," he says. "National commercial radio has increased its share massively, thanks to its appeal among young audiences," Bona adds. Last year, radio advertising grew by 15.9 per cent, compared with an overall market growth of 3.3 per cent, according to Nielsen Media Research.

The publishing newcomer Cairo Communication is making waves in the established magazine market with its competitive pricing and clever launches. It was behind this year's publishing phenomenon, DiPiu. A cross between a family weekly, a brash celebrity gossip title and a TV listings magazine, DiPiu launched in April and is now selling around one million copies and putting pressure on the sales and prices of the market stalwarts. "Cairo has been spot on, particularly with its editorial - led by Sandro Mayer, the highly regarded former editor of Gente - and by pricing DiPiu at just one euro," Hartsarich says. "It has shaken up the Italian weeklies." - By Marialuisa Taddia

GERMANY

Germany's media market is more straight-jacketed by tradition than most. So it is no surprise that companies that do things differently stick out like a sore thumb. Top of the list is the TV station RTL2. The smaller, more youthful Bertelsmann sibling of the generalist RTL, it was the first to air Big Brother and has continued to win favour among 14- to 29-year-olds with a blend of cheap docusoaps and reality shows. The rest of the market has tried to ape RTL2's programming formula and slick on-air design, Hartmut Riester, the connections director of Vizeum Germany, says. But all attempts have appeared derivative and tired by comparison.

More impressive, Riester says, is RTL2's sales and marketing strategy.

The channel broke away from the huge Bertelsmann sales unit IP Deutschland, which houses RTL, Super RTL, VOX, n-tv and RTL Shop, to form El Cartel Media. With its own sales teams and unique pricing structure in place, profits and market share are growing healthily (RTL2 now has a 6 per cent share) and its progress is being watched closely.

The outdoor media company Stroer Group is not strictly a challenger brand because it now dominates its market. But Kari Jackson Kloenther, MediaCom Worldwide's director of marketing, argues it was a sleeping giant until recently and deserves recognition for flushing the market with new ideas and a business-like approach.

Earlier this year, Stroer fought off challenges from giant rivals JCDecaux, Clear Channel and Viacom to buy the state-owned outdoor group DSM in one of Europe's biggest media deals.

Thomas Heilmann, the chief executive of Scholz & Friends, says: "A better choice is Wall, the premium outdoor player." It is likened to Van Wagner because of its beautifully crafted sites, which are designed to blend in with their surroundings.

In addition, a whole new genre is exciting German media folk. The retail radio channel Kauf Radio is one of a batch of small, independently owned regional operations to have shrewdly taken advantage of Germany's bargain-hunting craze. Its formula of broadcasting a song followed by a shopping tip can be heard in a growing number of retail outlets. - By Robin Hicks

FRANCE

The press is the real battleground of the French media. Although the commercial television station M6 bills itself as la petite chaine qui monte - the little station that's growing - its audience share has stagnated at 12.5 per cent and it seems unlikely to move out of its niche as the youthful competitor to the market leader TF1 (with 31.5 per cent of the audience) and the state-run channels France 2 and 3.

Alexis Porte, the head of TV at Initiative in Paris, confirms: "For the challenger brands in TV you have to look at cable and satellite, where you have interesting brands like Eurosport and 13eme Rue (13th Street). But you must also bear in mind that cable and satellite takes up only 25 per cent of the French market overall."

He adds that the arrival of digital terrestrial television in France at the end of 2005 may prove more of a threat to the establishment. "But when you look at the way digital television has performed in other markets, it makes you wonder whether broadcasters have much to worry about," he says.

Magali Florens, the director-general of OMD Rouge, agrees. "There was an era when M6 might have been considered a challenger brand but it has passed (M6 launched in 1987). There is not much upheaval in French television at the moment," she says.

Press, however, is another story. "Free newspapers have exploded into the market and represent a genuine challenge to the likes of Le Monde and Le Figaro," Florens says. She points out that 20 Minutos, a challenger brand in Spain, now produces 20 Minutes editions in Paris, Lille, Lyon and Marseilles and has a distribution of 675,000 copies.

Metro - its rival from Stockholm's Modern Times Group - distributes 555,000 copies in nine cities, including Bordeaux and Toulouse.

Le Monde, France's best-selling national, has a circulation of only 345,000 copies, according to OJD.

It is perhaps not surprising that La Provence, the paid-for French regional newspaper, has launched a series of free papers. Its Marseilles Plus was followed by Lyon Plus and Lille Plus.

"Free newspapers are a genuine trend in France and a new title seems to appear every day," Florens remarks. "The latest to hit the scene is Sport, which competes with L'Equipe. It is distributed on the metro, in stores and in bars and has done very well on the back of the Euro 2004 championships, the Tour de France and the Olympic Games." - By Mark Tungate

THE UK

Despite attracting its fair share of critics over its 21 years, Channel 4 appears to have won respect for being something of a challenger brand, particularly with the launch of E4. Jim Marshall, the chairman of Starcom Group UK, comments: "Channel 4 straddles a fantastic territory between being part of the establishment and maintaining its enfant terrible status."

Over the past year, the channel's hits have included Wife Swap, which is now running in the US. The format was developed by the independent TV production company RDF Media and Tess Alps, the deputy chairwoman at PHD, thinks RDF is one to watch. She says: "Wife Swap made TV take social reality programmes more seriously. RDF has had a huge impact because of the success of Wife Swap and the fantastically influential Faking It." However, George Michaelides, the managing partner at Michaelides & Bednash, thinks The Independent's decision to introduce a tabloid version makes it a challenger brand, particularly considering it was emulated by The Times. "It's very ballsy to do what it's done. The Independent's tabloid has attracted more readers to newspapers and allowed a certain creative quality for advertisers," he says. Michaelides reserves his highest praise for The Guardian, which has announced it will adopt the Berliner format in 2006. But it is the paper's weekly listings booklet that captivates him. He says: "The Guide on Saturday is one of the best innovations in national newspapers in the past 20 years."

Marshall thinks regional papers also deserve a mention. "The improvement in the quality of paid-for and freesheet regional newspapers has been staggering," he asserts.

Outdoor is also creeping onto the radar. Michaelides points to some of the innovations made by JCDecaux. "What you can do technologically with a bus shelter is phenomenal," he enthuses.

Marshall advises scrutinising the big global players. "The UK is still dominated by domestic players that are relative minnows on a wider scale. Viacom and Clear Channel are interesting brands that are beginning to flex their muscles," he says. - By Lucy Aitken.

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