Finns square off

Media titans toe-to-toe on exchange

HELSINKI — Finland’s two largest media groups will square off against each other on April 1 with the launch onto the Helsinki stock exchange of the Alma Media Corp.

Alma has been created from the merger of Finnish commercial channel MTV3 and the country’s second-largest publisher the Aamulehti Corp. Net sales of Aamulehti and MTV3 in 1997 together equaled some $492 million, but analysts are setting the value of the new company at $640 million, putting it toe to toe against Finland’s largest media group the Sanoma Corp.

Sanoma’s print, broadcast and new media interests combine to give it more than $600 million in annual revenues, including its 40% ownership of Helsinki Media Corp. (HMC). HMC, itself owner of a raft of print, publishing and new media interests, last year launched Channel 4, next to MTV3 the only other commercial channel in Finland.

MTV3’s old monopoly

Despite the existence of new competition, MTV3 is clearly the plum of the merger. Its net sales rose by 11% last year, audience share has hovered between 43% and 46% this year and share of the total TV ad pie is still well over 90%. The high ad share is an inheritance from years of holding a government granted monopoly on commercial TV advertising, which ended with the launch of Channel 4 last year.

Channel 4, going up against that advantage, in addition to bearing the costs of building new transmitters across Finland, has not had an easy time of it, but its aud share has slowly climbed since its launch nine months ago.

Aggressive expansion

While Alma laid out plans to investors to launch into new media and digital platforms, it’s clear the company has aggressive expansion plans beyond Finnish borders. Late last year, even before the merger, Aamulehti and MTV3 collectively swooped down on TV4 Sweden to buy up a controlling 23.4% stake in that commercial channel.

With giant Swedish media group Bonnier owning a 16.7% stake in TV4 and a 23% stake in Alma Media through its Marieberg subsidiary, the ties that bind Alma and Bonnier, the latter a company rapidly expanding into other European territories, are likely to grow.

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