Reality TV's New Mantra: "Get Big or Die"

Stephane Courbit - H 2015
AP Images

Stephane Courbit - H 2015

France's Banijay-Zodiak is the new global conglomerate on the block, with a footprint in 18 territories, a total annual revenue of $1 billion and a controversial tabloid favorite running the show.

This story first appeared in the Aug. 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Unscripted television has a new supergroup. The company created from the merger, announced July 28, of French firms Banijay Group and Zodiak Media (Wife Swap) has joined the ranks of megaproducers that dominate the global nonfiction TV business.

Like Shine-Endemol-Core Media (Big Brother), ITV-Talpa (The Voice), Discovery-Liberty Global-All3Media (Undercover Boss) and FremantleMedia (Got Talent), Banijay-Zodiak now will be a truly global operation. In addition to the U.S.' Bunim/Murray (Keeping Up With the Kardashians, Project Runway), the company also owns Germany's Brainpool; Australia's Screentime; Nordisk in Scandinavia; France's GTV, Adventure Line Productions, KM Productions and Mona Lisa; and Britain's RDF Television, IWC and Bwark — for an overall presence in more than 18 territories. The as-yet-unnamed conglomerate will have total annual revenue of about $1 billion. 

What's behind the merger wave? "There's a lot of consolidation taking place internationally right now," says Peel Hunt analyst Alex DeGroote. "Efficiencies accrue from more scale as well as more bargaining clout. Everyone is getting bigger." Echoes analyst Michael Underhill of Enders Analysis, "These larger companies benefit from greater scale."

The new Banijay-Zodiak conglomerate will be chaired by former Endemol France head Stephane Courbit, a tabloid favorite ever since a Bordeaux court ruled that he had taken advantage of L'Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, France's richest person. For persuading her to invest more than $150 million in his businesses (including Banijay), allegedly without her full understanding, Courbit was fined $280,000. To add to the controversy, he repaid Bettencourt, 92, with cash reportedly borrowed from the Al-Thanis family, the secretive clan that rules Qatar. The ruling so far has not impacted his businesses or, judging by the merger, his position in the industry. In fact, the scale of the merged company will give Courbit more power. Says a veteran European TV producer, who works for a Banijay competitor: "It's get big or die. The margins are too small for anyone but the big guys."