CONSUMER MAGAZINES (32%)
Operates 120 consumer magazines in seven countries. It is the leading
Dutch consumer magazine publisher, with titles such as Margriet. In the
Netherlands, it publishes 51 wholly-owned titles, including Playboy.
Through eight joint ventures it produces 22 titles. In the UK it
publishes 19 puzzle titles and has magazines in Belgium, the Czech
Republic, Hungary and Russia.
NEWSPAPERS (18 %)
Six paid-for regional titles, including De Limburger, and more than 50
free newspapers in the Netherlands. This division also includes cable
television newspapers and regional TV broadcasting in the
Has minority interests in five TV channels. It owns a quarter of the
Holland Media Group, which operates three channels in the Netherlands:
Veronica, RTL4 and RTL 5. The group is concentrating on TV programme
production and distribution via CVI Media, its joint venture with the UK
BUSINESS INFORMATION EUROPE (15%)
Around 90 trade and professional titles in Europe, plus Calyx, a
marketing information group.
BUSINESS INFORMATION US (25%)
It has 33 trade and technical journals ranging from Billboard to
It also operates Data Services, which provides media statistics to
agencies and advertisers, and Market Information Services, a market
EDUCATIONAL PUBLISHING (2%)
Educational textbooks in the Netherlands and Belgium.
There is a noble tradition of colourful eccentricity among media
magnates, one that stretches back over many decades and across several
continents. Walt Disney, for example, eventually turned his back on
making TV specials in favour of an obsessive interest in cryogenics
while, of the modern breed, Kerry Packer is still prepared to bet
millions on the turn of a single card and Ted Turner, according to his
biographer’s notes, once arrived naked for the signing of a lucrative
VNU will never be run in that sort of publicity-hungry, flamboyant,
almost cavalier fashion. The Dutch-based company is too reserved for
that. Some of its executives admit that perhaps it is too reserved.
’I think people have an odd perception of VNU because we don’t shout
about our size or court publicity,’ says Brin Bucknor, sales director at
what is for UK audiences still the most visible part of the whole VNU
portfolio - the range of computer and management titles operated by VNU
Business Publications out of Soho. ’We’re in more markets and more areas
of the media than most people realise,’ he adds.
In fact, the entire Business Information Europe division, responsible
for titles such as Accountancy Age and Computing over here and
publishing 90 titles across Europe, represents just 15 per cent of total
group revenues, making it only the fourth largest of VNU’s six operating
The biggest chunk of VNU’s business remains the consumer magazines that
started the company off and still remain strong in the Netherlands and
Belgium. But, given the rate of corporate expansion around the world,
that’s not always likely to be the case.
Two years ago, VNU derived more than half of all group revenues from its
core Dutch operations. That figure has now dropped to comfortably below
50 per cent, as the fruits of an aggressive acquisition policy across
Europe and the US start to become apparent. The UK represents just 7 per
cent of total group sales, while the US is responsible for rather more
than a fifth of total income.
The new VNU dates from 1993 when the company sold off its sluggish
printing operations and began to reposition and streamline itself.
According to the chairman, JL Brentjens, the aim is to achieve a more
varied geographical portfolio, investing only in growth areas with
Unfortunately, its Netherlands-based conservatism has been a tough
legacy to shed. Just five years ago, VNU was heavily dependent on the
Netherlands and its mature consumer magazine and newspaper market. The
answer lay in a number of overseas acquisitions that have helped shape
the company, the first of which was BPI Communications, a major US
This was followed by a costly flirtation with the European TV
In 1995, the company bought minority interests in five commercial TV
stations in the Netherlands and Belgium, including the youth oriented
station, Veronica, as part of a joint venture with CLT.
But income from VNU’s commercial broadcasting has been falling for the
past couple of years and Brentjens has signalled that the company is now
more interested in providing programming than owning channels.
To that end, 18 months ago the company set up a joint venture - CVI
Media Group - with the UK-based music and media group, Chrysalis, with
the aim of augmenting Chrysalis’s existing TV production businesses
VNU has been rather more successful in developing higher margin
businesses within its consumer magazine arm. After a period of
reorganisation, the company stepped up its domestic magazine launch
schedule with the well-received women’s weekly title, Vrouw Vandaag.
More important has been VNU’s expansion outside Holland. At the end of
last year, for example, the company completed the acquisition of the
Prague-based publisher, Kwety Ceske, which owns Prague’s leading weekly
general interest magazine, Kvety. In one stroke, this addition to VNU’s
already impressive stable made it the largest consumer magazine
publisher in the Czech Republic.
VNU also maintains a strong position in Hungary, while its acquisition
of a 35 per cent stake in Independent Media in Moscow last year gave it
access to what is potentially the largest growth market in Europe.
Independent Media publishes seven consumer titles, including
Cosmopolitan and Good Housekeeping.
Since refocusing on international growth, VNU now operates in 15 markets
around the globe, including modest joint venture operations in India,
Puerto Rico and South Africa. But the area where it is expanding most
rapidly is in information provision. VNU’s most significant acquisition
by far last year was ITT World Directories, an international yellow
pages provider. ITT offers the double whammy of high margins and strong
cash flow which can be used to finance further growth for VNU in the
more cyclical, but potentially even more profitable, magazine markets.