Media: All about ... Emap

Will the company regret selling its French magazines, Alasdair Reid asks.

Emap clearly doesn't travel well. A decade ago, it was easy to believe in the company's really big adventure as it set out, a slightly rock 'n' roll (albeit terribly well-behaved) adolescent with a Rough Guide to Global Media in its backpack, to conquer the world.

And if it had to hit the road after losing in the US, then you could always put that down to experience, especially given the possibility that there were equally intriguing European prospects closer to home. But even that may turn out to be a pipe-dream, with the company announcing last week that it hoped to sell its French magazine division, following disappointing results.

Last year, all the fight seemed to go out of Emap France almost overnight when two new TV listings titles launched against its own titles, Tele Star and Tele Poche. However, Emap's group chief executive, Tom Moloney, chose not to dwell on this as he pinned up the "for sale" signs. Instead, the spin was that Emap France had been built up into a "leading consumer magazine publisher with a strong position in its market, an attractive portfolio of established titles and a record of successful launches".

Why Emap has decided it doesn't want to be the one to benefit from this strong position (beyond the immediate future of a sale) was less clear, however. Suffice to say the never-say-die fighting spirit that we expect from Emap in the UK doesn't seem to have transplanted itself across the Channel - though Emap still has the ghostly outline of an overseas empire.

It still boasts a US edition of FHM, for instance, and an Australian presence.

Meanwhile, its UK spread of interests remains impressively extensive. It's arguably the most diversified multimedia company we have. And, indeed, the hope is that this strategic review could pave the way for further acquisitions and launches in the UK.

1. Emap's biggest corporate disaster to date was paying £1 billion for the US magazine company Petersen in 1998, then selling it (after struggling during the downturn) to Primedia in 2001 for £336 million. The episode cost Emap's then chief executive, Kevin Hand, his job and dented the company's confidence in its ability to manage non-UK assets.

2. Emap first got involved in the French market in 1990, through a joint venture with Bayard Presse - a publisher of magazines for children and teenagers. The giant leap came in 1994 when it devoured Hersant and Edition Mondiale, earning it a 10 per cent share of the French magazine market. It acquired a French exhibitions company in 2003.

3. Emap has also pursued a strategy of launching successful UK titles abroad through joint venture or licensing agreements. Zoo has launched in Spain and Australia; Heat and Closer are now published in South Africa. There are 30 editions of FHM around the world, with all but the US, UK and Australian titles produced under licence.

4. The company has been far more surefooted and pioneering in its home market. Its evolution out of business and consumer magazines began in 1990 when it acquired the London radio station Kiss FM. It vacuumed up a series of radio assets in the 90s and moulded them into strongly branded national networks. Last year, it strengthened its national coverage with the acquisition of Scottish Radio Holdings.

5. It had dabbled in TV as far back as 1996, when it acquired a cable and satellite music channel, The Box. But its presence in the market really began to accelerate in 2000 when it spun off its Q magazine brand as a music TV channel. The next year it launched Kerrang! TV, Magic TV, Smash Hits! TV and Kiss TV.

6. It is arguably the UK's most innovative media owner when it comes to advertising sales. Emap Advertising has become adept at selling, for instance, the youth audience that its portfolio of radio, music TV and magazine properties attracts.

7. With the UK's largest radio group, GCap, going through a painful post-merger period, Emap has been attempting to introduce a coherent branding strategy for its properties. Ironically, however, radio revenues remain relatively fragile - though not as weak as TV revenues. The strongest prospects of all are old-fashioned consumer magazines, where circulation and advertising revenues continue to look robust.

WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...

EMAP

- On the one hand, you could argue that pulling out of France improves the company's focus. On the other, though the short-term reasons for this move are easy to fathom, it could prove a retreat that Emap will come to regret.

- Large media owners in other mature media markets, such as the US and Germany, believe that the main engine for growth has to be overseas expansion, particularly into developing markets.

- Having failed in the US, Emap may regret abandoning another foreign foothold without putting up more of a fight. It will not be easy for the company to revive its international ambitions at a later date.

ADVERTISERS

- Advertisers tend to like Emap's energetic approach on the advertising side - and the way that the attitudes of its sales teams reflect so consistently the attitudes of brands they represent.

- If it continues to deliver, then the UK advertising market probably won't worry too much about the international aspects of the company's strategy.

- As Ian Tournes, the press director of Starcom Mediavest, puts it: "I don't think UK advertisers care particularly about what has been happening in France. They'd like to think that this move might lead to more investment in the company's UK properties but, from what I understand, that is unlikely to happen. Emap, I believe, has said it will take the proceeds of the sale and hand the money back to shareholders."

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