French media group Vivendi has entered exclusive talks to sell its publishing house Editis to Czech Media Invest, founded by billionaire Daniel Křetínský, in a move that could pave the way to finalise a bigger deal with Lagardère.
The sale of Editis is seen as a prerequisite to get EU regulators’ approval for the group’s takeover of Lagardère, a publishing and retail business. Competition authorities had balked at the idea of Vivendi controlling both Editis and Hachette, the world’s third-biggest publisher, which is owned by Lagardère.
No price tag was given for Editis but Vivendi, controlled by French billionaire Vincent Bolloré, last week wrote down the value of the publisher by €300mn to €529mn. Any deal would be subject to approval by the European Commission, Vivendi said.
Vivendi had initially planned to list Editis on the Euronext Growth exchange via a share distribution, and then sell the Bolloré family’s 30 per cent stake to an investor. But after receiving “several offers” for the whole company, the share distribution project has been put on hold as it pushes ahead with negotiations with the Czech billionaire to buy the whole publishing house, it said.
Křetínský, who has built one of Europe’s largest energy groups through a series of acquisitions over the past decade, is a major shareholder in J Sainsbury and Royal Mail, and also has stakes in French newspaper Le Monde, food retailer Casino and German retailer Metro AG.
The mooted sale of Editis is the latest chapter in the long-running saga of the fight to control Lagardère group, which has fascinated French business circles for years. In the culmination of a five-year long battle, Vivendi reached a deal to buy an additional stake in the group from activist investor Amber Capital in 2021, taking its shareholding in Lagardère over the limit required to make a full takeover offer.
Lagardère’s heir and chief executive, Arnaud Lagardère, was powerless to stop the sale of the group his late father founded and built into a business with interests across sectors from media to defence. The younger Lagardère slimmed down its holdings so its main assets are now Hachette and the travel retailer Relay.
However, Vivendi’s deal has been in limbo since Brussels opened an in-depth antitrust investigation in November over concerns it would hand Vivendi too much control over French language publishing. Ceding Editis is seen as the remedy to this problem, subject to regulators’ sign-off.
Vincent Bolloré first invested in Vivendi about a decade ago and has since held a minority stake of just under 30 per cent, but as chair he has set its direction. The company has reduced its holdings in recent years — most notably spinning out Universal Music Group in 2021 — and now its principal assets are PR group Havas, pay-TV provider Canal+ and a clutch of print magazines.