Lagardere builds production empire

Company to buy European TV companies

CANNES — Deep-pocketed Gallic conglom Lagardere is on the hunt for production companies as it pursues is aim to create a pan-Euro TV production giant.

Lagardere already owns 20% of French paybox Canal Plus France. The acquisition of “a bevy” of French companies will be announced “within months,” Jean-Pierre Cottet, VP Lagardere Ent. told Daily Variety at Cannes Mip TV mart Wednesday.

Beyond that, it will buy up or buy into production houses outside France. Once it has reached critical mass, it will start talks with U.S. companies to create U.S.-French production alliances, Cottet said.

“American companies need to have European partners. They can’t just sell programs, they need to make them over here as well,” he said.

Lagardere’s aim, said Cottet, is to nearly double annual revenues for its TV producer assets in France by year-end 2009 from a current e140 million ($218.4 million) and to reach $1 billion in annual revenues by 2012.

Lagardere already owns a dozen or more TV producers, focused primarily on fiction, but also animation and light entertainment, including GMT, DEMD, Image et Compagnie, Aubes and Timoon. It is in talks to acquire TV companies in Italy, Germany and Spain, said Cottet.

“We are used to co-producing with these countries,” he said.

It is also eying Eastern Europe and acquisition targets in the French-speaking world, such as Canada and Belgium, he added.

Lagardere’s agenda coincides with the appointment April 1 of Takis Candilis, former No. 2 at broadcaster TF1, as VP of production at Lagardere Ent.

“Broadcaster share is eroding. Content looks set to take pole position in TV,” Candilis said. “We want to grow quickly to become the leading production company in France and probably in Europe,” he added.

“The company acquisitions will be content-driven. Content is at the heart of this group. We’re not looking at buying and selling companies. Companies across Europe all have problems accessing good scripts, ideas, formats. Being part of a larger group can help solve that,” Candilis said.

Highly capitalized, Lagardere’s sales rose 8.5% to $13.4 billion in 2007. Operating profits were also up by 22% to $1 billion drawing on sports, publishing, retail, aerospace and media.

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