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Mediahuis buys €6mn EU news brand

European media group Mediahuis has acquired EURACTIV, the 24-year-old Brussels-based, EU news website in a move which seems likely to lead to increased competition for the European edition of Axel Springer’s Politico.

EURACTIV was launched in 1999 by French publisher and former management consultant Christophe Leclercq. It has variously been described as a non-profit enterprise alongside the Europe MediaLab foundation, sometimes with an estimated 15% of funding from the European Union itself. It covers EU policy through the following verticals: agrifood, economy, energy and environment, global Europe, health, politics, technology and transport. It is said to reach an estimated 1mn users monthly on its English, French and German websites and has 680k (free) subscribers to its 30 newsletters.

Mediahuis is believed to have paid some €5mn for the brand whose 2022 revenue was an estimated €6mn, mostly from advertising. Although it has been growing revenue annually by €1mn in recent years, EURACTIV is believed to be only marginally profitable.

Mediahuis is expected to intensify efforts to build subscription revenues and – eventually – to mount a challenge to the market leader Politico whose profits, both in Europe and the US, come largely from its PoliticoPro paid subscription newsletters for policymakers and corporates.

Politico Europe was launched as a JV in 2015 and the US parent company was acquired outright by Springer for “more than $1bn” in 2022. It employs some 300 employees and its primary Playbook newsletters in Brussels, London and Paris have a total of 250k subscribers. Last year, it also produced some 50 events. It is estimated to have annual revenue of some €25mn.

Although it has a long way to go to catch Politico, EURACTIV is a highly-rated news brand with EU-based journalists ranking it behind the Financial Times and Politico as the third most influential media outlet in the European Parliament in a 2021 survey. It also competes with EUObserver.

Gert Ysebaert, CEO of Mediahuis, said yesterday: “EU politics and policymaking are fundamental in today’s society and affect millions of Europeans. Hence the importance of strong, independent and pluralistic European coverage. EURACTIV has succeeded in building a promising news brand and has become a trusted source of information for EU policymakers, interest groups and other media.”

Mediahuis was formed in 2013 as a joint venture between the Belgian publishers Corelio and Concentra. Since then, it has bought newspapers in the Netherlands, including NRC Handelsblad and De Telegraaf. In 2019, it paid a reported €146mn for Independent News & Media, publisher of the Irish Independent. It also acquired the Belfast Telegraph. It operates digital marketplaces in Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Ireland, for real estate, recruitment and autos.

In 2020, the company was particularly active and acquired: NDC mediagroep, publisher of the newspapers Dagblad van het Noorden, Leeuwarder Courant, Friesch Dagblad and dozens of regional news and weeklies in North Netherlands; Saint-Paul, the largest media group in Luxembourg and publisher of Luxemburger Wort; and the Irish automotive leader

With about 4,600 employees and some 1.8mn paid subscribers (40% digital), Mediahuis had 2022 revenue of €1.2bn – a 4x increase in 10 years. Operating profit was €156mn. It was a tough year but one in which it had entered the German market with the acquisition of a 70% stake in Medienhaus Aachen, publisher of Aachener Zeitung, yet another sign of Mediahuis’ ambitions to become a significant European media player.

But there appears to be no sign – yet – that the company will enter the UK news market. It is assumed to have considered (and rejected) the opportunity to acquire the all-digital Independent, owned by the Lebedev Group. It is assumed that when/if the privately-owned (and now resurgent) Telegraph Media Group is put up for sale, Mediahuis would be appetised by the prospect of owning one of the country’s best-known news brands.

The driving force behind the 10 years of Mediahuis has been Thomas Leysen, its chairman and controlling shareholder. He told Flashes & Flames: “My father invested in a predecessor company of Mediahuis in order to save Belgium’s foremost newspaper of record, De Standaard, from bankruptcy back in 1976. I have been on the board of that company since 1982 – at the tender age of 22! However, I chose to make my professional carreer outside any family business. I became CEO of Umicore, a large publicly-listed materials technology group. Thereafter, I became chairman of a number of other public corporations, but I always kept an involvement in media. When Mediahuis was formed in 2013 through the merger of our company with another long-established Belgian publisher, I decided to become an active chairman. We have a very strong executive team, led by CEO Gert Ysebaert, and I mainly focus on acquisitions and long-term strategy.”

Op profit 155.7 166.1-10.4
Margin 13% 15%-2%
Cash (Net debt) (54.1)7.0(61.1)
Source: Mediahuis