Zodiak Media and Banijay Group are set to form a powerful production and distribution group with strong assets in the UK, US, France, Germany, Italy and central and eastern Europe among other territories.
Deal confirmation came early Tuesday afternoon following weeks of speculation over the talks, news of which had first emerged mid-June. The new group will count Wipe Swap, The Inbetweeners, Secret Millionaire, Stars in Danger, Tipping Point, It’s Only TV, Totally Spies and Wallander among its titles.
Stéphane Courbit, who owns Banijay through his LOV Group, will be chairman of the new entity, with Banijay CEO Marco Bassetti becoming chief executive.
The pair – friends for more than two decades and former colleagues at Endemol (where Courbit was Endemol France boss and Bassetti group president) – are thought to be the driving forces behind the deal. While the exact shareholdings of the firm are not known, Banijay will likely take a commanding position because of its better financial shape, though both are thought to have significant debts associated with their various acquisitions.
Banijay’s shareholders include LOV, whose boss Courbit was recently found guilty of taking financial advantage of 92-year-old l’Oreal heiress LIliane Bettancourt, plus investment firm GroupeArnault, the billionaire Agnelli family’s Exor, and Jean-Paul Bize‘s AMS Industries.
Zodiak CEO Marc-Antoine d’Halluin will leave upon completion of the deal in a few months’ time, likely before MIPCOM. Sources have suggested he was not keen on the deal, though it has long been suspected he had been drafted in as CEO just under two years ago to help engineer a new shareholding agreement of some sort.
When asked point blank last September if a merger with a firm the size of Banijay would make sense in the light of the then newly-announced agreement between Endemol and Shine Group and the sale of All3Media to Discovery Communications and Liberty Global, he replied it was unlikely just years after Zodiak had merged with the UK’s RDF Media.
“Of course, it could happen tomorrow or in six months, but the plan we have agreed upon with our shareholders is to develop the company to its full potential,” he told TBI. “We still have some way to go there.”
This could have been bravado, of course, as could the following from Bassetti when TBI talked to him at MIPTV 2014, where he was dismissive of potential merger talk. “I don’t see a merger coming, as I don’t think there is opportunity for us there,” he said.
Observers have applied the word “opportunistic” to the Banijay-Zodiak tie-up, and it’s easy to see why.
The fact Banijay and Zodiak have a common shareholder, De Agostini, is a key factor in what has actually come to pass. The Italian firm, which also has shares in Spain’s Atresmedia, currently has a majority stake in Zodiak and a minority holding in Banijay through DEA Capital.
Another player is Dasym Investments, the Netherlands-based firm attached to Endemol and Talpa Media founder John de Mol. (Dasym was born out of Cyrte, which de Mol created in 2000 to manage his assets after selling Endemol for the first time.)
Dasym was involved in the creation of Zodiak Media when Zodiak Entertainment and Wife Swap producer RDF Media came together, and was rewarded with a minority share in Zodiak. Could it be de Mol is in line for another pay-out soon after ITV agreed to pay up to £1.1 billion (US$1.7 billion) for Voice owner Talpa, which he launched after leaving Endemol in 2007? Dasym’s shareholding – if indeed it still has one – is unknown.
De Mol knew one thing, though: last year he told TBI he expected more top-level M&A action. “In the next two to three years, you’re going to see further centralisation of about three, four or five bigger global players who have come together to make a stronger global company,” he said.
Once the structure of the new group is clearer and the merger complete, the story will move on to the structures of the resultant teams. There is unlikely to be much movement in the UK, where Zodiak is strong and Banijay has no foothold, but elsewhere there could be widespread change akin to the personnel changes at Endemol Shine Group following their merger.
There is plenty of overlap in France, where Banijay has been flying thanks in large part to nightly D8 series Touche Pas à Mon Poste (It’s Only TV) and the popularity of its host, Cyril Hanouna, who is also CEO of Banijay France-owned H2O Productions.
Former Banijay group COO François de Brugada is now CEO of Banijay France. Gaspard de Chavagnac holds the same post at Zodiak France, which – though traditionally strong in the territory – has been struggling recently. Notably, it was struck by tragedy when a number of celebrities and Zodiak staff members were killed in a helicopter crash during the filming of TF1’s version of Dropped.
Elsewhere, Banijay has made in-roads into the US after Bassetti hired another ex-Endemol colleague, David Goldberg, to run LA production office Banijay Studios. Zodiak has formats on air in the States, but according to one well-placed source, “has been quieter since Grant Mansfield left” in 2012. Zodiak Americas CEO Jonny Slow left the group in February.
Both Zodiak and Banijay have operations in the Nordics (Zodiak Nordic, Nordisk Film TV, Banijay Finland, Respirator and Pineapple Entertainment), Italy (Magnolia Italy, Zodiak Active, NonPanic, Aurora TV, Ambra Banijay Italy) and Spain (Cuarzo-DLO Productions, Magnolia Spain). The firms’ respective distribution arms, Zodiak Rights and Banijay International, will also create overlap, with Tim Mutimer in charge of Zodiak’s sales team and Emmanuelle Namiech in the same role for Banijay. These are the areas where rationalisation are likeliest to occur.
Businesses in Russia, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands and India are exclusive to one company or the other, and Banijay has no equivalent to the Zodiak Kids division.
The ‘ZodiBan’ story is just beginning.