Sales: EUR 189.33 million ($179.2 million)
Stock Exchanges: Euronext Paris
Ticker Symbol: EXP
NAIC: 512110 Motion Picture and Video Production
Expand SA has carved a place for itself as France’s leading television programming production company and has become one of the top three European audiovisual production companies. The company has organized its operations around four primary divisions: Games and Entertainment; Fiction and TV Series; Animated and Children’s Programming; and Magazine Programs and Documentaries. The company’s games and entertainment division is its strongest and provides much of the short-term funding for its other, longer-cycle products. Featuring a strong palette of game show programs—Expand is the French leader of this segment—including the French version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?,” the most popular game show worldwide at the turn of the century, the company’s “flux” programming (i.e., recurrent daily and/or weekly programming that combines low production costs with strong programming schedules to generate immediate profits) contributed more than half of its EUR 190 million in 2000 revenues. Expand also has been a leader in the so-called “adventure game” category, building on its long-running success with “Fort Boyard,” in production since 1990 and the most exported French program of all time with the creation of “The Desert Forges.” In France, the company has adapted the popular reality-type program “Survivor” for the French market. Expand’s 1999 merger with Ellipse Programmes gave it a strong package of animated and children’s programming, as well as boosting its second largest division, Fiction and TV Series. That division provides more than 30 percent of the company’s revenues, through the production of more than 120 telefilms and series per year. Listed on the Euronext Paris stock exchange, Expand agreed to be acquired by film production company StudioCanal, itself a subsidiary of giant Vivendi Universal, which held more than 96 percent of Expand’s stock by January 2002. The company continues to be led by cofounders and co-CEOs Philippe Poiret and Patrick Wallaert.
Medical Communications in the 1970s
Expand existed as a small Paris-based communications firm specializing in the medical representation market at the beginning of the 1970s. In 1973, that company was taken over by partners Philippe Poiret and Patrick Wallaert, who began building it into one of France’s leading healthcare communications companies. A major market for the company became the training of physicians and other medical personnel.
During the 1970s and early 1980s, Poiret and Wallaert diversified the company’s activities. Expand entered the recruitment and training of medical sales representatives, primarily for pharmaceutical companies. Expand also began producing medical advertising, which led the company into the media buying field, placing print and other ads. Seeking fresh capital for growth in the second half of the 1980s, Expand listed its stock on the Paris stock exchange’s secondary market in 1985.
A meeting with Dominique Ambiel in 1987 led the company into a new direction. Ambiel had been working under François Leotard, a French minister. Ambiel was placed in charge of a dossier governing film and television issues. At that time, French television was undergoing something of a revolution: for most of its history, French television had been a government-dominated affair limited to just three channels. The 1980s, however, had seen the emergence of the country’s first privately owned stations, notably the privatized TF1, and the newly created Canal Plus, M6, and Arte. The new stations represented a far larger market for television production, and particularly, a new market for game show and other entertainment programming.
Expand decided to place its existing healthcare operations into a newly named Expand Santé division and to create an entirely new division, Expand Images, for its entry into audiovisual production in 1988. Ambiel was placed in charge of the new division and led the company on an acquisition spree that saw the absorption of some 20 companies specializing in audiovisual production. One of these companies belonged to Jacques Antoine, considered the father of French game show programming.
Expand Images had an international hit on its hand with the debut of “Fort Boyard” in 1990. This adventure game show, set in a former prison fortress located off the coast of La Rochelle, presented its group of contestants with a series of challenges—both physical and intellectual—and the opportunity to raise funds for a favorite charity. The show was an instant hit in France, remaining in position throughout the decade, with no signs of letting up at the turn of the century. By 2001, Expand had sold more than 150 programs to the French market.
Yet the success of “Fort Boyard” was achieved especially on the international level. The show’s formula was quickly adopted by a variety of other countries. Part of the company’s sales came from exports of its original French-language broadcasts to other countries, where episodes were then subtitled or dubbed into the local language. In this way, a long list of countries, including Finland, Ukraine, Poland, Portugal, and Venezuela, boosted the success of the program. Still greater success derived from attracting contracts for new, country-specific programming using Expand’s “Fort Boyard” set. More than 14 countries developed their own versions of the “Fort Boyard” formula, and by the end of the 1990s Expand had produced more than 400 country-specific programs for markets such as Canada, The Netherlands, Israel, the United Kingdom, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and others.
“Fort Boyard” became the most exported French program of all time, with more than 1,000 programs sold around the world. At home, Expand continued to build up its portfolio of programming, becoming especially strong in the game show format but also as a maker of televised films and series. By the mid-1990s, the company had captured a leading position in the French market, fighting principal rival Ellipse Programmes for the largest share of the country’s television viewing hours.
Expand Sante, meanwhile, kept pace with Expand Images’ growth, firmly establishing itself as the French leader in its sector and one of the largest across Europe. During the 1990s, the company launched its own digital television network, Medicine Plus, targeting an international medical market. Another major initiative taken by the company was the launch of its Internet-based portal Club Medical, linking physicians across France.
Pure Player for the New Century
By the late 1990s, the two divisions roughly equaled each other in terms of revenue generated for the parent, which topped the FFr 1 billion mark. Yet the company’s stock remained somewhat undervalued compared with Expand Images’ pure-play competitors. At the same time, future growth in the French market for Expand Images’ categories seemed limited, since the company was already a dominant player—instead the company would have to look for continued growth on a European scale.
A downturn in Expand Santé’s core Pharmaceuticals market encouraged Poiret and Wallaert to consider its options. After considering a spin-off of one or the other of its divisions, Expand instead opted for a sell-off of its Expand Santé division, to Schroder Ventures for FFr 279 million. The company now determined to refocus itself as a pure-play audiovisual production company. As Dominique Ambiel told La Tribune: “We concentrated the last ten years on becoming the leader in audiovisual production in France, and in the next 10 years we will become the leader in Europe.”
The company took two strong steps toward achieving this goal in 2000. The first came when Expand Images merged with rival Ellipse Programmes, itself a subsidiary of film production house StudioCanal, creating a new company, Expand SA. The merger proved highly complementary, combining Expand Images’ expertise in games and entertainment programming with Ellipse’s strength in animated and children’s programming, creating a French powerhouse with programming depth across nearly all the major programming segments. A second step toward filling out the company’s programming came with its acquisition of DMD Productions, owned by Michel Drucker, one of France’s best-known television personalities.
These moves came with the company’s announcement of its intention of more than doubling its revenues, topping EUR 450 million by 2003. Part of the company’s new urgency was inspired by the entry of one of the European leaders, Endemol Productions, into its home territory; by the middle of 2001, Endemol and Expand were neck-and-neck for the French leadership.
- Philippe Poiret and Patrick Wallaert take over a small communications firm and diversify into recruitment, sales training, and educational seminars.
- Expand goes public on the Paris stock exchange secondary market.
- Expand creates Expand Images and enters audiovisual production for the television market.
- The launch of Fort Boyard gives Expand its biggest success; the program becomes the most exported of all French programs.
- Expand sells off its Expand Santé division and refo-cuses its operation around its audiovisual production.
- Company merges with Ellipse Programmes, then acquires DMD Productions.
- StudioCanal acquires majority shareholding of Expand.
- StudioCanal moves to take over full control of Expand, gaining 96 percent of shares by January 2002.
By then, Expand had turned toward bigger pockets to fuel its international ambitions. The merger with Ellipse had brought in StudioCanal, itself a subsidiary of Vivendi Universal, as one of the company’s major shareholders. In 2001, Poiret and Wallaert agreed to sell their own stake in the company, through financial investment company Finexpand, giving StudioCanal a majority share. At the end of 2001, StudioCanal exercised its option to make a takeover bid of the entire company, and by January 2002 had succeeded in gathering more than 96 percent of Expand’s stock.
Expand, meanwhile, had continued to build on its success at home, gaining the French rights to develop the highly popular game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” for the French market, where the program met with similar success. The company also had garnered the rights for the U.S.-based “reality” game show, “survivor,” which was broadcast in the summer of 2001 to the French market as “Les Aventuriers de Koh-Lanta.” At the same time, Expand had been developing a new program, based on the “Fort Boyard” concept, “The Desert Forges,” which had been generating a good deal of international sales, even if its success in France remained somewhat limited. Expand appeared certain to continue its strong record of expansion in the new century.
Audiovisual Production: Expand Images SA; SCI Moreau Vauthier SCI. Games and Entertainment: The Desert Forges Productions (Jordan); Little Box Productions SNC; Zen Productions SA; DIEM SA; DMD Productions SA; Adventure Line Productions SA; Starling SARL (50%); Pegasus Television SAS (50%); Calt Production SARL (50%); Pro TV SA (49%). Catalogue Programs: Ellipse Distribution SNC; Ellipse Program USA; Ellipse Deutschland Societe; Sirius Films Productions SA; Expand Droits Audiovisuels SA; Le Sabre SA; Elma Antilles SNC; Ellipse Animation SNC; Ellipse Reunion SNC;
Mars International Productions SA; Point du Jour International SNC; Point du Jour Productions SA; Ellipse International SNC; Expand Interactive SA; Caudim SA; Expand Licensing SA; Anabase Productions SARL; Home Made Movies SA; Expand Drama (Mars International Fictions) SA; Osby Films SA; Elimca Productions SNC; Alizés Films SAS (80%); Expand Music (son et futur edition) SARL (69,93%); Elma Productions SA (67,34%); K’ien Productions SARL (60%); Alizés SARL (50%); Le Studio Ellipse SA (50%); Brigade Legere SA (49,97%).
Antenna TV S.A.; Crown Media Holdings, Inc; Endemol Entertainment Holdings NV; HIT Entertainment PLC; The Television Corporation plc; EM.TV & Merchandising AG.
Delarue, Emmanuel, “Expand profite de son recentrage sur l’audiovisuel,” La Tribune, November 29, 1999.
Esquirou, Martine, “Interview: Le PDG du Groupe Expand,” Les Echos, October 10, 1999, p. 19.
“Les ambitions d’Expand a l’international,” U Expansion, October 21, 1999, p. 14.
Riemer, Blanca, “Fusion Expand-Ellipse dans la production audio-visuelle,” La Tribune, February 11, 2000.
——, “Le producteur Expand veut devenir un leader europeen,” La Tribune, July 7, 1999.
——, “StudioCanal prend le controle du groupe de production Expand,” La Tribune, June 26, 2001.