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In 2010 Ringier and Axel Springer formed a joint venture, combining ownership in their East European assets. For over a decade the Swiss-German holding was one of the region’s biggest players, especially in tabloids, magazines, and digital marketplaces.
That era ended in July this year, when Ringier took over Axel Springer’s shares in Hungary, Serbia, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (Poland was excluded from the deal). While Axel Springer has been buying up properties in the US, becoming a global player in the process, Ringier is consolidating the East.
The portfolio counts over 3,000 staff and over 200 digital and print products. Its digital business already accounts for around 70 percent of sales and 85 percent of EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization).
Johanna Walser has been Chief Communications Officer of Ringier AG since October 2020 and has worked for the Ringier Group since 2017, first as Head of Corporate Communications for the joint venture, then as Communications Manager with a focus on International Marketplaces for Ringier AG. In 2018, she was appointed Deputy CCO. The Fix spoke to Walser about Ringier’s plans in Eastern Europe.
More from The Fix: Axel Springer becomes a global player overnight
Why did Ringier buy the Springer shares in the joint ventures in CEE?
With the acquisition of Axel Springer’s shares in the joint venture in Hungary, Serbia, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Ringier is further advancing its consistent, international growth and investment strategy in the area of digital marketplaces and media brands. This significant investment also strengthens Ringier’s existing activities in Romania and Bulgaria. The timing of the share acquisition is ideal, as Axel Springer continues to focus on its long-term growth strategy.
How do you assess the future market development in Hungary, Serbia, Romania, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania?
Good to very good. Since the founding of Ringier Axel Springer Media AG in July 2010, the joint venture between Ringier AG and Axel Springer SE has developed into one of the largest and most modern media companies in Central and Eastern Europe with around 3,100 employees. The extensive portfolio includes more than 200 digital and print products. The share of adjusted EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization) accounted for by the digital activities was around 85 percent in the first half of 2021.
Hungary, Serbia, Romania, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (plus Poland, which will continue as a JV between Ringier and Axel Springer) are all thoroughly attractive markets with a lot of potential. In Hungary, Serbia, Romania and Slovakia, Ringier has been operationally successful and innovative with strong market positions for 25 years.
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What is your general strategy with regard to these markets?
With the acquisition of Axel Springer’s shares in the joint venture in Hungary, Serbia, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Ringier is pushing ahead with its consistent, international growth and investment strategy in the area of digital marketplaces and media brands.
This transaction is a commitment to Ringier’s long-term engagement as a modern media investor in Eastern Europe and also strengthens Ringier’s existing activities in Romania and Bulgaria.
In March 2021, Ringier acquired a majority stake in the Bulgarian Sportal Media Group in order to combine its extensive experience in the Global Media segment with Sportal’s know-how, for example in the area of UX. A successful start was made in Romania. Serbia, Slovakia and Hungary are ideal geographical additions for the expansion of our digital sports media strategy.
[Editor’s note: More information on the Bulgarian deal can be found here]
Isn’t each of these markets actually too small to scale well economically and commercially and thus be profitable?
The portfolio of these countries is an ideal fit for us and will further strengthen the Ringier ecosystem. In addition, Serbia, Slovakia and Hungary offer a good basis for the expansion of our digital sports media strategy.
How will you conceptually develop platforms and offerings such as Noizz?
The experienced and successfully operating local management teams as well as the respective portfolio are an important part of Ringier’s future strategy. We do not foresee any changes, but the plan to integrate the countries even more strongly into our international network of media and marketplace experts.
Ringier’s portfolio in Eastern Europe
The portfolio includes top daily newspaper Blic, news website Blic.rs, noizz.rs, the women’s magazine Blic žena, leading women’s portal zena.rs and the forum ana.rs as well as the best-known Serbian weekly newspaper NIN. Other publications include the magazine “Elevate” for Air Serbia, as well as the daily newspaper 24 Sata and the Novak Djokovic Foundation’s magazine Original. The portfolio of digital marketplaces includes Nekretnine.rs and MojAuto.rs.
The portfolio in Serbia consists of leading internet company Azet.sk, community portal Pokec, as well as pure digital media brands such as Aktuality.sk, Šport.sk, Živé.sk, Diva.sk, Najmama.sk, Noizz.sk, Recepty.sk and Dobruchut.sk. Through its subsidiary United Classifieds, which operates leading digital marketplaces such as Autobazar.eu, Autobazár.sk, Nehnuteľnosti.sk or TopReality.sk, it is also the largest operator of digital marketplaces in Slovakia.
Baltic States Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania
In Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, CV Market Group operates the leading job advertising portals cvkeskus.ee in Estonia, cvmarket.lv in Latvia and cvmarket.lt in Lithuania. CVKeskus.ee is the leading Estonian job portal and has the largest CV database in the Baltic States.
The portfolio in Hungary consists of more than 60 digital and print products. The portfolio includes the market-leading daily newspaper Blikk, the online portal Blikk.hu, the popular women’s weekly Kiskegyed, the well-known glossy magazine Glamour and the number one digital job marketplace: Profession.hu.