Roularta Media Group NV is a Belgian-based media conglomerate. The company had its beginnings in 1953, when Flemish lawyer Willy de Nolf set up a printing shop with a single sheet-fed machine behind his house in Roeselare, Belgium. That year, De Nolf and his wife launched a new newspaper for the local community, the Roeselaarse Weekbode. The paper's focus on its local and regional market quickly attracted advertisers, which helped swell the paper from its original ten-page format. The success of the Roeselare paper led de Nolf to repeat the format elsewhere in Belgium, including the towns of Izegem, Tielt, Torhout, and De Leie. De Nolf later acquired other regional Flemish-language weeklies, including the Brugsch Handelsblad, Kortrijks Handelsblad, and De Zeewacht, grouping all of the titles as De Krant van West-Vlaanderen in 1989. The last addition to De Krant van West-Vlaanderen came with the takeover of Het Wekelijks Nieuws in 2000. With 11 editions printed under five titles, De Krant van West-Vlaanderen had enabled Roularta to become the sole publisher of paid weekly newspapers for the west Flanders region.
Origins and Early Growth: 1953 to Mid-1980s
From the company's founding in 1954, Roularta aimed to become a large media group. That year it introduced the advertising-supported free weekly De Streekkrant. As with their first newspaper, Roeselaarse Weekbode, which began publishing in 1953, the De Nolfs started with a local Roeselare edition. Soon, however, the circulation of De Streekkrant went national as the company built up coverage across the country's Flemish-speaking markets through the launch of a number of locally oriented papers under the De Streekkrant banner. By the end of the century, Roularta had built up a network of 50 local papers. With readership levels topping 2.75 million, De Streekkrant also became Belgium's single-largest newspaper.
At the end of the 1960s, Roularta had become synonymous with its door-to-door newspapers. With the next generation of the De Nolf family, in the form of Rik De Nolf, who joined the company in 1972, Roularta began to eye other growth markets. At the time, there were no quality news magazines targeting the small Flemish-speaking population of Belgium, and certainly none that matched the quality of such news magazines as The Observer in England, L'Express in France, or even Elsevier in the Netherlands. De Nolf decided to take on the challenge of launching a quality news magazine with a Flemish orientation, and in 1971 the company debuted the monthly Knack (apparently named for the 1965 British film The Knack and How to Get It). The driving force behind Knack proved to be Rik de Nolf, who refused to bow to critics who judged the Flemish market too small to guarantee the magazine's success.
Meanwhile, the magazine found itself facing a number of new competitors, as three other regional news magazines launched in the same year. Yet one of these did not last out its first year, the second closed the following year, and the third, although holding on longer, shut down in 1984. Knack, on the other hand, went from strength to strength, stepping up its publishing schedule to become a weekly. In the early 1980s, Knack began to add new sections, such as a special Antwerp city edition added in 1981. In 1983, Roularta launched another title, Weekendblad; the following year, Knack was separated into two parts, the weekly Knack news magazine, and the lifestyle magazine Weekend Knack. Other later additions to the Knack group of titles included the quarterly titles Knack Gezondheid (Health) and Knack Multimedia.
Rick De Nolf took over the company after his father's death in 1981. Yet the younger De Nolf had already begun transforming the company. In 1975, De Nolf led the company to launch a new magazine title, Trends, targeting the financial and corporate new markets. That magazine, which also began publishing a French-language edition, once again took on the competition, growing to become one of Belgium's most important business news magazines. Like Knack, Trends began publishing as a monthly before converting to a weekly magazine. Boosting the magazine's credibility were copyright agreements with such leading magazines as Forbes, The Economist, and the Financial Times.
Expansion: Mid-1980s-Early 2000s
Roularta launched a number of other successful magazine titles, including the sports magazines Foot and Sportsmagazine, which were fused together in the late 1990s. Another title was Steps (called Style in the Netherlands) a free magazine launched in 1984 and dedicated to the lifestyle and tourism markets. The Steps series distinguished itself by providing regionally focused editorial content in a glossy magazine format.
In 1988, Roularta launched another successful magazine concept, targeting the over-50 market with the title Onze Tijd, as well as a French-language version called Notre Temps. In 1990, Roularta exported the concept to the Netherlands, where it was given the title Plus and became one of that country's best-selling magazines.
By the beginning of the 1990s, however, Roularta was preparing to branch out into new areas, including book publishing. One of these was commercial printing, an operation that culminated in the creation, in 2000, of the Mercator Printing Group, formed through the merger of Roularta's commercial printing operations with those of Concentra Grafische Groep and Mercator Press. Roularta's stake in the new company stood at 40 percent. Another new area of operation was the events management field, brought under subsidiary Roularta Events, which began organizing events for Roularta itself--such as its awards ceremonies "Manager of the Year" and the "Cash! Awards"--and also for third party events, such as the Volvo Golfer of the Year award.
Partnerships led the way to another media diversification move for Roularta at the beginning of the 1990s. In 1988, the Belgian government had agreed to allow the formation of the country's first commercial television networks (the two existing stations were government owned). As part of that agreement, the country's major newspaper groups were given first crack at forming a television group. However, that effort fell through in 1989, and afterward Roularta joined a consortium of magazine publishers, including rival De Persgroep, in setting up Vlaams Media Maatschappij, which in turn launched the VTM network. Roularta eventually increased its holding in VMM to 50 percent.
In the mid-1990s, Roularta extended itself into other new media categories, such as CD-ROM duplication and publishing (and later DVD publishing) and Internet activities. The company continued to build on its magazine portfolio, launching in 1996 the jobs ad insert Vacatures, which targeted primarily Flemish and Dutch-speaking job seekers with higher education. Vacatures was included not only in Knack, Trends, and other Roularta publications, but also in third-party newspapers and magazines such as Het Laatste Nieuws, De Morgen, and De Financieel Economische Tijd. Vacatures also went online in 1997, then began branching out into more targeted areas, adding a "Science and Technology" supplement and a French-language version, Vacatures Emploi. In 1999, Vacatures joined with other European career sites to form the Talent4Europe.com web site, a service providing coverage of 16 European countries scheduled to begin operation in 2002.
Roularta Media Group went public in 1998 on the Brussels Stock Exchange, selling some 25 percent of its shares (the De Nolf family retained ownership of 75 of the company). The following year, the group stepped up the pace of its magazine launches, debuting a new financial magazine, Bizz, geared toward the young entrepreneur and executive set, and the English-language Trends International.
International growth became the company's target at the turn of the century. For this, Roularta intended to follow a two-prong approach, built on the one hand around its De Streekkrant free newspaper format, and on the other on its magazine titles, particularly its Plus series. The company entered Portugal, launching local editions of De Streekkrant as Jornal da Região, which quickly become one of that country's highest-circulation newspaper titles. The company also joined in the partnership behind the launch of the free French-language daily Metro (but pulled out again at the end of 2001). Roularta meanwhile had found a more successful partnership with France's Bayard Presse Paris, which shared 50-50 ownership of the growing number of Plus editions, which had spread to Denmark under the name of Vi over 60. The success of the Plus title encouraged the company to adopt the name in Belgium as well, replacing the Onze Tijd/Notre Temps titles in 2001. In that year, Roularta and Bayard launched a new variation of Plus, now to the German market, where the format received the name Lenz.
The year 2000 saw the launch of another title in the Roularta fold, Grande, a glossy magazine presenting photographic essays of worldwide subjects. In that year, the company grouped all of its various Internet activities into a single portal, Easy.be, which quickly became one of the Flemish-speaking markets busiest portals.
In mid-2001, Roularta was the center of speculation that it was preparing to merge with its chief Flemish rival, De Persgroep. Such a merger faced mergers and monopolies hurdles, however, as the resulting group would gain a de facto monopoly on the Flemish-speaking press. Meanwhile, De Nolf acknowledged that the company was interested in seeking partnerships with other media groups in Europe in order to step up the company's international expansion. The company was also exploring possible acquisitions, including a possible bid for parts of rival VNU's magazine division. At the end of 2001, the company launched a new magazine title, Nest, which replaced two former Roularta titles, Levend Land and Spijs & Drank.
Start-up costs for its new titles, including its participation in Metro, coupled with a slump in the advertising sector, hit Roularta hard in 2001. As its revenues barely climbed over the previous year, nearing EUR 439 million, the company slipped into the red, posting a loss of more than EUR 6 million. However, after exiting the Metro partnership, and with no new titles planned for the coming year, Roularta expected to be back into profits in 2000. Roularta had successfully expanded beyond its newspaper origins to become a leading Belgian media group poised to take on its giant European rivals in the new century.
Principal Subsidiaries: Roularta Media Group NV; Newsco NV; Regie De Weekkrant NV; Roularta Books NV; Roularta IT-Solutions NV; Sportmagazine NV; Style Magazine BV; Trends Magazine NV; Vlaamse Tijdschriften Uitgeverij NV; West-Vlaamse Media Groep NV; De Streekkrant-De Weekkrantgroep NV; Oost-Vlaamse Media Groep NV; Vogue Trading Video NV; De Vastgoedmakelaar NV; Hippos Vademecum NV.
Principal Competitors: Berkshire Hathaway Inc; News Corporation Ltd.; Cox Enterprises Inc.; Bertelsmann AG; Cox Enterprises Inc.; ABC Inc.; Pearson plc; Advance Publications Inc.; Hearst Corporation; Vivendi Universal.