Economy & Politics

“Willingness to pay for digital content is increasing”

In a first interview, Gert Ysebaert, CEO of Mediahuis, talks about his plans for the Saint-Paul Luxembourg group, but also about the reasons why the takeover was formalized in the midst of the covid-19 pandemic and his vision of the media industry .

In a first interview, Gert Ysebaert, CEO of Mediahuis, talks about his plans for the Saint-Paul Luxembourg group, but also about the reasons why the takeover was formalized in the midst of the covid-19 pandemic and his vision of the media industry .

How was pandemic containment for you?

Gert Ysebaert – “I work in the office two days a week, and two or three days at home. Before the crisis, nobody thought they could manage a business with almost no one in the office. It’s an interesting experience and once the crisis is over, we will probably have a more mixed way of working. People will be able to work more from home and come to the office only for meetings.

What did you know about Luxembourg before the acquisition of Saint-Paul Luxembourg?

“Honestly, I didn’t know the country very well. But of course, I have started studying it more in recent months. It is a very interesting country for several reasons: firstly because it is internationally oriented and multilingual, it is also a rich country and finally, interesting thing is that there are many of press brands for a country of this size. Perhaps this is why the penetration of newspapers is quite high.

MEDIAHUIS (Concentra / Standaard / Nieuwsblad / Gazet van Antwerpen / Belang van Limburg) 9/19/2014 pict. by Bert Van den Broucke © Photo News

The multimedia group Mediahuis NV, currently present in Belgium, the Netherlands and Ireland, has just acquired the share capital of the Saint-Paul Luxembourg SA group. This acquisition will allow the leading Luxembourg media group to accelerate its digital transformation project.

What first caught your attention on the Luxembourg market?

“The former shareholder Lafayette (who manages the assets of the Archdiocese of Luxembourg, editor’s note) was looking for a long-term solution for the company, and that’s how we got in touch and discovered this opportunity. They were looking for a solid media company. We probably wouldn’t have done it if we hadn’t already taken the step towards Ireland. Because before that, we were really a Dutch-speaking media group.

Many people were surprised by the timing of the announcement, made in the middle of the covid-19 pandemic …

“The conversations started long before the coronavirus crisis. There was no haste, neither on our side, nor on Lafayette’s side. Then came this crisis and we wondered if we should continue. This is a crisis that will hit us hard and the whole group will have to take action. But fundamentally, we continue to believe in the model and in the fact that operations in Luxembourg can be healthy. So we said “keep going”.

Gert Ysebaert is convinced that print will remain important, probably for decades to come.

Photo: Mediahuis

No financial details of the transaction were released, but as an industrial buyer, you should have been able to pay a higher price due to the expected synergies. Where do you think they will happen?

“When we make an acquisition, we base the value on the effective value of the independent business. We don’t take synergies into account. But of course there will be synergies. Probably in terms of costs, but especially in terms of collaboration in terms of experience, skills and technology.

What we can bring, and what the company is asking for, is digital acceleration. Digital subscriptions for the Luxemburger Wort are less than 10% whereas for benchmark daily newspapers such as De Standaard in Belgium or NRC Handelsblad in the Netherlands, they are 40%, and are moving towards 50%. There is potential there.

The first thing we need to do now is to assess the situation caused by the current crisis. We based our assessment on 2019 numbers, and we will need to make sure that the company we bought is still the one it is today. The company will have to adapt to the new circumstances.

Die auflagenstarke "De Telegraaf" gehört zu den Mediahuis-Titeln in den Niederlanden.

Mediahuis is a 21st century company, but the editorial tradition of the group dates back to the 19th century.

Are you planning to cut jobs?

“There will be no reduction just because of the acquisition. But the question will be: what is the impact of the crisis? The company we bought is a solid company with a long-term future, but management will have to look at the cost base. But this is not the result of the acquisition.

Do you see the identity of the Luxemburger Wort switch ?

“There are no plans – and no reason – to change the identity of the brand. That’s what we bought, it’s strength. The brand identity is the responsibility of the editorial staff. We believe in editorial independence and it is the editorial staff that must take care of the brand. It is their responsibility. We will not interfere with the content.

What is your recipe for the crisis facing the media industry? Are you sure it can work?

“The success of the long-term viability of our industry will no doubt depend on the success of the digital transformation. Fortunately, we find that the willingness to pay for digital content is increasing. When I look at several titles in our group, we see a huge increase in digital subscriptions. So yes, I’m confident, but I’m not sure it will go away on its own. We will have to work very hard and take many steps to achieve this. I also consider it our duty. ”

Interview by Roland Arens, Pierre Leyers and Douwe Miedema


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