Xavier Niel is worried about the TF1 / M6 merger, Martin Bouygues answers him

TELEVISION – “We are going to create a monster!” Xavier Niel did not beat around the bush to denounce the dangers of the TF1-M6 merger. The founder of the Iliad telecoms group was heard in the Senate by the commission of inquiry into concentration in the media, this Friday, February 18. The same who auditioned Arnaud Lagardère, this Thursday.

While the Competition Authority and Arcom (ex-CSA) must render their decision before the end of the year on the TF1-M6 merger, the businessman has expressed his strong opposition to this project.

The shareholder of the Le Monde group (which owns The HuffPost) pointed the finger at the main risks of this project, against which he multiplies the appeals to justice. In particular, he mentioned the consequences of such a merger on the prices of television advertisements.

“TF1 or M6, have a force which makes it possible to reach 10 million people, by putting an advertising spot during the series HPI. And you need that power (as a business, editor’s note). But when you put together the only two media that have this power in France, you create problems. (…) In terms of advertising, you will create a monster that will dominate the market”.

Fusion, “a danger” for cinema?

After speaking as the boss of Free (Iliad), Xavier Niel then spoke as co-founder of Mediawan, the audiovisual production juggernaut founded with Pierre-Antoine Capton and Matthieu Pigasse. It is to Mediawan that we owe, among other things, It’s up to youthe documentary on OrelSan never show that to anyoneor North ferrya big favorite of the César 2022. Cédric Jimenez’s film also served as an illustration for Xavier Niel.

“When you produce a film like North ferry, there are several places where you collect recipes. You will see TF1 and M6 to ask how much they would be willing to pay to finance this. From this moment when you have the merger, you no longer have this open market and it is 4000 producers who will suffer”, he declared, anticipating “downward negotiations” of audiovisual and cinematographic productions .

The sarcasm response from Martin Bouygues

Martin Bouygues, the first shareholder of the TF1 group was able to respond to him indirectly, since – coincidence of the calendar – the latter was heard by this same commission a few minutes after Xavier Niel. Faced with the Senators, he first minimized the power that this new group could have in the event of a merger with M6.

“I heard that the future group would be far too powerful in terms of information and that all of this would be extremely dangerous. Let’s be factual: among all the sources of information used by the French, television today has a much less important place than in the past,” he said in his opening remarks, citing data on the consumption of youth television.

Martin Bouygues then brushed aside Xavier Niel’s concerns about a possible soaring in advertising prices. “Mr. Niel was alarmed that a TF1-M6 merger would cost him dearly. To make things very clear, Iliad has invested four million euros in TF1 in 2021. Iliad’s margin is around 1.8 billion, so I think it’s not quite there yet. danger, that he is reassured”, quipped the first shareholder of the TF1 group, saying to himself “shocked” that Xavier Niel “brings everything back to his money”.

Like Martin Bouygues, Nicolas De Tavernost had also pleaded for this merger. During his hearing before the Senate on January 28, he felt that failure would be detrimental to both groups. “Those who would refuse this consolidation would take a great risk for the French audiovisual sector, he had declared. “Today, with the rules that are imposed on us, with the conventions that are under the responsibility of the CSA, I think that there is no risk in this business of concentration.”

Three chains for sale in the event of a merger

To be able to carry out this project, TF1 and M6 will have to sell several channels or transfer a digital terrestrial television (DTT) frequency to comply with the regulations, according to which a group can hold a maximum of seven channels.

Currently, TF1 owns five (TF1, TMC, TFX, TF1 Séries Films, LCI) just like M6 (M6, W9, 6ter, Gulli, Paris Première). At least three channels are therefore affected by a sale. Xavier Niel, who admitted having been a candidate for the takeover of M6, explained that he was not interested. “It seems so absurd to me that I can’t even project myself into this world,” he said.

Patrick Drahi, the boss of Altice (BFM TV, RMC…) has meanwhile expressed his desire to take advantage of this merger to strengthen his group. “If I can recover what will fall from the tree, I will do it. It would be better for an entrepreneur who has been a little successful to take care of it rather than someone who came out of nowhere, who will crash in three years, ”he told the Senate on February 2. last.

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