Niel and Bouygues clash over TF1-M6 merger

French telecom tycoons Xavier Niel and Martin Bouygues have clashed over the proposed merger between commercial broadcasters TF1 and M6 in hearings before the country’s upper house, the Senate.

Niel, the owner of Iliad Telecom/Free, said that a merger of the country’s two largest commercial broadcasters would “create a monster” that would dominate the advertising market.

Niel condemned the way that the plan for the merger had, as he saw it, effectively been greenlit by the chief of media regulator ARCOM, Roch-Olivier Maistre, and culture minister Roselynne Bachelot before any interviews with interested parties had taken place, and called for the EU to probe the deal, rather than France’s own competition regulator.

Interviewed by the Senate immediately after Niel, Martin Bouygues, proprietor of Bouygues Group and owner of TF1, said that the merger was justified by the growing media presence of international players and the diminishing power of TV.

Bouygues addressed Niel’s comments directly, noting that Iliad Group had spent only €4 million with TF1 last year.

Niel’s position on the merger contrasts with that of a third French telecom mogul, Patrick Drahi, who declared himself broadly in favour of the merger in an earlier interview before the Senate.

Niel, unlike Drahi, has ruled out any interest in acquiring assets that could be sold by TF1 and M6 to secure regulatory approval for the merger.

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