Skip to main content

French shipping tycoon Rodolphe Saade has agreed to buy France’s leading rolling news channel BFM TV off Patrick Drahi’s debt-laden Altice group, their respective companies said on Friday, as billionaires vie to control the French media landscape.

Saade’s Marseille-based shipping company CMA CGM will acquire the French media unit of telecoms group Altice, which includes BFM TV as well as radio RMC, for an enterprise value of €1.55-billion ($1.69-billion).

The move will allow Saade, who is CMA CGM’s chief executive, to consolidate a growing media business in France, while the deal will also help ease finances at Altice, which has been trying to sell assets to cut down debt since a rapid rise in interest rates.

BFM TV rose to prominence in France in the 2010s, becoming a ubiquitous sight in bars and cafes across the country and often setting the media narrative, with its ticker closely watched by political advisers and business leaders.

Its change of ownership to a more deep-pocketed tycoon will be scrutinized by the French political class, at a time when hard-right news channel CNews, owned by billionaire Vincent Bollore, poses a growing challenge to BFM.

This is not the first foray into the media world by the secretive Saade family.

Last year, it launched a Sunday newspaper that competes directly with the Journal du Dimanche, a formerly respected weekly newspaper taken over by Bollore and turned into what critics say is a far-right mouthpiece.

A source close to CMA CGM told Reuters at the time that Lebanon-born Saade was keen for its media to offer a “nuanced” view of the world and not “fuel the flames of extremism.”

“With this planned acquisition, we have the ambition to continue our long-term development in the media industry,” Saade said in a statement on Friday.

Media analysts said the high price tag agreed by CMA CGM – a multiple of 14 times Altice Media’s core profit – probably reflected the extra level of power and influence owning the well-known media brands would give Saade.

“He doesn’t want to wait five years before becoming an ambitious media group,” Philippe Bailly, a media consultant at Paris-based NPA Conseil, said. “It’s a rather generous ratio. There’s probably a little premium due to the influence this deal gives you.”

A post-COVID shipping boom fanned profits for shipping firms, swelling the privately-owned group’s coffers and prompting CMA CGM to go on a flurry of acquisitions in port terminals, logistics firms and French media.

Saade has been a regular participant in French President Emmanuel Macron’s overseas trips as CEO of a flagship national business.

Altice’s founder and owner Drahi, who recently vowed to cut his company’s massive debt through asset disposals, said the deal would allow BFM and the RMC radio station to continue to grow under Saade’s ownership.

BFM says it has 12 million daily viewers. CMA CGM said it has asked Altice Media’s management team to remain in place.

Cash-rich CMA CGM already owns French regional newspapers La Tribune, La Provence and Corse Matin and holds a more than 10 per cent stake in M6, France’s second-biggest private TV network.

The transaction will be submitted for regulatory approval in France and is expected to close during the summer, Altice said.

CMA CGM is being advised by Morgan Stanley and Messier & Associés and Altice is being advised by Lazard.

Drahi is struggling to boost creditors’ confidence in the financial reliability of his media-to-cable conglomerate at a time when revenue and profit at Altice France, the country’s second largest telecom group, have declined.

The deal “goes some way to satisfying (Altice) shareholders but probably not enough,” said Paolo Pescatore, founder and TMT analyst at PP Foresight.

“All telecoms companies are struggling which requires a very well thought out turnaround plan. Convincing them will be no easy feat.”

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe