Axel Springer Looks Abroad to Expand Media Empire | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 26.11.2006
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Axel Springer Looks Abroad to Expand Media Empire

After Axel Springer's ambitions to take over Germany's ProSiebenSAT1 were thwarted by the competition and media authorities, the newspaper publisher is now hoping to acquire a share in television sector outside Germany.

The Springer Verlag office building

Springer owns the most-read newspapers in Germany and Poland

In the bitter battle for the broadcaster, Springer, which publishes the mass-circulation daily Bild, was forced to admit a stinging defeat at the beginning of this year when media and anti-trust watchdogs vetoed the deal.

But Springer, the biggest newspaper publisher in Europe, did not spend long licking its wounds and has since embarked on an aggressive overseas expansion drive, taking stakes in Turkish and Polish television companies and preparing the launch of a French version of its flagship tabloid, Bild, the most widely-read newspaper in Germany.

On Nov. 16, Springer announced it was taking a 25-percent stake in the Turkish broadcaster Dogan TV, the parent company of which has other media interests, such as the newspapers Hurriyet and Milliyet.

A week later, on Nov. 23, the German group then said it was in talks to buy a 25.1-percent stake in Polish television company Polsat.

Already successful in Polish print media

Polish women reading Fakt

Poles will soon see Springer productions on TV as well as in the paper

Springer has already successfully established itself in Poland via its mass-circulation daily Fakt and the more high-brow publication, Dziennik.

By itself, the move into Polish television "makes sense, we see it as an interesting investment," said Springer spokeswoman Edda Fels.

The publishing company could use its existing printed media activities there to forge a link between the printed and television media, a strategy that has long been an ambition of chief executive Mathias Döpfner, who masterminded the original plans to buy ProSiebenSAT1, Germany's biggest free-to-air broadcaster.

Döpfner has insisted that "we don't need a substitute" for ProSiebenSAT1, and that Springer would forge ahead with growth, seizing all strategic and investment opportunities as they presented themselves.

Aside from Fakt and Dziennik in Poland, Axel Springer has launched various foreign-language versions of its best-selling German publications, such as Computer Bild in Russia and Auto Bild in Azerbaijan.

French Bild also in the works

The Bild newspaper logo

Springer is hoping the French Bild will become as popular as baguettes

The group now generates 16 percent of its revenues abroad, a trend that is rising.

Nevertheless, Springer's preparations to launch a French Bild, now at an advanced stage, represents a change in direction, since the target market is not central and eastern Europe, but a mature market much bigger in size than Poland or Hungary.

Springer hopes the French Bild, which so far has not been given an official name, will repeat the success of Fakt in Poland.

Launched in 2003, Fakt quickly became the country's most widely-read newspaper.

Earlier this week, Springer said that the financing for a French editorial team was already in place and the final decision regarding the timetable for the launch would be made next year.

Markets likely to smile on Springer

All this frenetic activity is likely to be good for Axel Springer, according to industry experts.

The group's main outside shareholder, US private equity group Hellman and Friedman, plans to sell a 10-percent stake in the newspaper publisher via the open market by the end of the year, depending on market conditions.

Hellman and Friedman specializes in investments in media and new technologies and holds 19.4 percent of Springer.

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