In order to celebrate their marriage at the beginning of 2023, the TV groups TF1 and M6 must absolutely convince the Competition and Market Authority of the merits of their union, or risk having to cancel everything in a sector upset by the American platforms. Hearings are organized by this institution on Monday and Tuesday, to negotiate with the chains and their owners – the Bouygues and RTL groups (subsidiary of the German Bertelsmann) – and to question competitors and representatives of the sectors concerned. The debates are expected to be long, because opinions on the merger are very divided. Even a non-public report by the Authority’s investigative services has obscured the prospects of the project, announced in May 2021.
The merger between TF1 and M6 would in fact lead to the creation of a French television giant, with almost 4 billion euros in turnover. With 75% of the TV advertising market share, the risk is that it will become inevitable for advertisers and will have a heavy impact on the already conflicting market for channel distribution, as well as for the purchase of audiovisual programs. For the Authority these are “significant competition problems”, unless very significant remedies are imposed.
Resist streaming platforms
Unacceptable for the two groups, who intend to join forces to better stand up to competition from streaming players (Netflix, Disney, Amazon or even Youtube and Tiktok) who are eating up their viewing time and attracting more and more advertisers. “The nature and extent of the remedies requested in the investigation report would cause the parties to lose all relevance to the project, which, in this case, would abandon it”, he reacted at the end of July.
TF1 and M6, which expect to generate “synergies” of between 250 and 350 million euros thanks to their merger, responded to the Authority in mid-August by offering more limited concessions, in particular the separation for three years of their advertising agencies. the creation of a separate management for radio (which would bring together those of RTL and Indés Radio, managed by TF1). But “it will certainly be necessary to go further” to have the Authority’s college surrendered, a source expert on the subject told AFP. According to her, the sale of a secondary channel such as W9, which would reduce the advertising market share by a few percentage points, is no longer excluded.
A “failure” for France?
The college – made up of 17 members including magistrates, academics, lawyers, entrepreneurs or consumer representatives – will make its decision in mid-October. The whole question is whether it intends to redefine the contours of the video advertising market, integrating the global streaming giants, which would mechanically reduce the weight of French players. The government also has the option of overriding a refusal by the Authority if it justifies reasons of general interest.
“If this operation does not take place, it will be a huge failure for France, which has had the opportunity to lead the way in Europe,” M6 boss Nicolas de Tavernost, appointed to lead the new entity, told Télérama. It would also be a heavy blow for the two groups, who will have to review several projects. In particular, they envisaged the sale of the TFX and 6ter channels to Altice, which thus hopes to become the second largest television advertising operator, and the purchase of the shares of France Télévisions in the Salto platform. TF1, for its part, has already withdrawn from a number of activities related to online marketing and printing. Finally, Bertelsmann will have to find a new buyer for M6 as soon as possible because the channel’s broadcast license expires in May 2023. Once renewed, any shareholder changes will be prohibited for 5 years.