EUROPEAN MEDIA: France - Across the Channel

Isabelle Musnik reports from the French capital, where the media agencies and owners are reeling from a hectic year.

's return from the traditional summer break has been unusually eventful. "We are exceptional in France," Isabelle Tricot, the director of research and strategic planning of MediaCom, says. "There are always more launches than closures. If you compare advertising and circulation in 2001, the press is the medium that performed worst in advertising with a 7 per cent decrease in advertising pages, but there was still a small increase of 0.4 per cent in total circulation. Readers are not disappearing."

Yet 2001 was a quiet year for launches. There were 14 new magazines according to Initiative Media, but some have already closed, such as Madame Figaro Cuisine, Triba, launched by Le Nouvel Observateur and aimed at "new families", and M Magazine targeting the male market. In 2002 Initiative Media anticipates that there will have been 30 new launches by the end of the year.

And it's true that, despite the downturn, new titles are appearing all the time, particularly in the youth market.

Hachette, Bayard, Milan Presse, Fleurus, Play Bac and Prisma have been the most active, and, just recently, Prisma Presse gave birth to a little brother for Geo. Geo Ado is a monthly for the ten- to 15-year-old age group. The first print run was 150,000 copies; Prisma's target is 80,000 copies.

Sebastien Danet, the chairman of Zenith Optimedia in Paris, has singled out two successful launches that target active women: Vivre au Feminin (Home Edition) and Bien Dans Ma Vie (Axel Springer). The latter takes a leaf out of the UK edition of Glamour in that it is small enough to fit in a handbag and has only nine sections; psychology, movement, fashion, beauty, food, sex, a topic of the month, health and secrets. These new titles "speak to women in a different way from the old titles", Tricot says. "They don't try to give her advice that she has to follow. Instead they offer her a choice of solutions and she decides. Psychology and health are important topics. The old titles will have to adapt or die."

Those titles that are biting the dust include five different varieties, according to Danet. He says: "Five different types of publication are suffering the most: the national daily press; regional press; news magazines; internet titles and economics magazines. Some have already disappeared, such as Web Magazine, and a question mark hangs over the future of others, such as the bi-monthly Le Nouvel Economiste, which has recently been purchased by the Jacob Abbou group."

Turning to TV, Canal Plus may still be under Vivendi's control but the break-up of the rest of the troubled group has finally started with the sale of its free newspaper group, Comareg, as well as its Express-Expansion consumer press division to Socpresse, which owns Le Figaro, France's second-largest daily.

These purchases, which cost more than 300 million euros, will allow Socpresse to enter the magazine market to become the fourth-largest magazine group in France, behind Hachette, Prisma and Emap.

The combination of Le Figaro and the former Vivendi titles will create a second advertising super-power in France behind the Hachette Filipacchi-owned Interdeco.

The new group will have an estimated advertising turnover - excluding classified ads - of about 396 million euros (for 2001), which is 16.5 per cent of the total advertising expenditure of all magazines in France.

Not only this but "it is also creating a new media landscape, with the bipolarisation of magazines in France into a centre-right group around Le Figaro, L'Express and L'Expansion and a centre-left group around Le Monde and soon Le Nouvel Observateur", Danet says.

The time is ripe for change. Le Monde, fresh from its successful launch of a paying monthly magazine, Le Monde 2, in 2000, has already dipped its toe into the regional press. Two years ago, it took a stake in Midi Libre, a group in the south of France, then it bought Courrier International, which reproduces in French articles from all over the world.

It is also negotiating a cross-stake with Le Nouvel Observateur and has completed the purchase of 30 per cent of the capital of Publications de la Vie Catholique, the company that publishes the French cultural television magazine Telerama.

So although times have been tough from an economic point of view, France's media has been active in terms of making deals, launching new products and innovating to create a new landscape. As Danet points out: "Although the market is slowing down, there is still real dynamism in some sectors, especially the women's press, youth magazines, health and sport."

Taking sport as one example, there have been three big football magazines which have launched in the last year and are still very much afloat, including Kop Publications' Foot Europe and the weekly Football Kids (AJTL Editions).

And as if to prove that France can still rock 'n' roll, the legendary Rolling Stone magazine is launching a customised French-language edition in October, licensed by Ixo Publishing.


What's the brand with the most influence in your country?

Enron is the brand that has had the biggest impact worldwide this year.

What has been the most talked-about campaign this year?

The campaign for Orange by BETC Euro RSCG (pictured below). Not

blatantly glamorous, but smart and relevant. And media sensitive... I

bet it must be highly efficient.

What's been the biggest surpise hit on TV this year?

The biggest surprise was that the anticipated flops didn't happen. For

instance, the World Cup continued to attract viewers, even after the sad

demise of the French team. And Le Loft 2 (Big Brother) fared better than


What is the latest must-read marketing book?

Karl Marx's Manifesto of the Communist Party. It was written in 1847 but

everything about market globalisation is already in there. He was a much

better economist than politician.

And The Meme Machine by Susan Blackmore, who is a great thinker on

perception and memory. It's time the industry started considering those

elements beyond the apparent efficiency of instant enjoyment.

Which media personality gets the most column inches?

Jean-Marie Messier, although lately he's probably hating it rather than

loving it!

Who is the most feared person in the industry?

The Minister of Communication, whichever side (s)he's from. Laws are

rarely passed to improve the way communication is working, but rather to

please voters, who in turn don't give a damn about communication (or so

they think...).

What is the biggest media party of the year?

Canal Plus' spontaneous live broadcast general assembly the day its

president, Pierre Lescure, was revoked by Jean-Marie Messier. A first on

television anywhere, I believe. And very French, too...

Where's the best place to meet clients?

Mediaedge:cia Paris' terrace overlooking the Eiffel Tower. It's tiny but

quiet and charming. And there are no competitors around.

What is the biggest single issue facing Europe's media industry?

Coping with technological change and ensuring that everyone is at the

same point at the same time so people aren't left behind or in front.

The advertising world must take the measure of those changes and start

thinking about "how to?" rather than "how much?".

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