Saturday 25 May 2019

Media firm continues its rapid expansion

The INM printing facility in Citywest, Dublin
The INM printing facility in Citywest, Dublin
Donal O'Donovan

Donal O'Donovan

A takeover of Independent News and Media (INM) - if it goes ahead - will boost revenues by about 20pc to €1bn at Antwerp-headquartered Mediahuis.

It is enough to push the business, which was only founded in 2013, into the top flight of Europe's fractured media sector and is also Mediahuis's first foray into the vast English language media market - where its chairman Thomas Leysen clearly has further ambitions.

The Belgian-Dutch company has expanded rapidly since 2013, when it was formed from a merger of Belgian newspaper rivals, going on to gobble up regional and national titles, most notably including Dutch newspapers 'De Telegraaf' and 'NRC Handelsblad'.

In Dublin yesterday, Mediahuis chief executive Gert Ysebaert and chairman Thomas Leysen placed huge stress on the company's experience transitioning established print brands to commercially viable online models, but also the individuality of titles - including editorial independence and a case-by-case approach to metering paywalls.

Its existing media assets are a lively mix of conservative and liberal titles spanning the equivalent of the broadsheet and tabloid markets. Its oldest title, 'Haarlems Dagblad', dates back to 1665, while its newest products include digital-only apps and podcasts. No single title dominates the group.

The private company that controls Mediahuis is in turn owned by shareholders - the Van Puijenbroek family, who had a Dutch media business for 70 years before merging with Mediahuis; the Baert family in Belgium whose publishing business dates back 120 years, and chairman Thomas Leysen himself, whose father led a rescue of Belgium's 'De Standaard' 40 years ago.

In Belgium, the main assets are Flemish language, which overlaps linguistically with neighbouring Dutch. In the Netherlands, Mediahuis has a 35pc share of the newspaper market, in Belgium it has 43pc.

The group also owns classifieds businesses - including property, cars and dating websites, as well as radio assets.

The INM deal represents a major departure - the first out of its language area and the biggest part of the business that will not bring in new shareholders.

Mr Leysen, who is familiar with Ireland as chairman of Brussels-headquartered KBC Bank Group since 2011, said the INM deal would be funded with additional debt at the parent level - which would push its financial gearing to a still conservative 1.5 times to two times earnings.

Mr Leysen himself is one of Belgium's best-known businessmen - he sits on the steering committee of the Bilderberg group of corporate and government leaders.

Irish Independent

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