"Did the Norwegians celebrate 17 May by closing the Swedish fool's project Punkt SE? Well, at least the announcement of the closure came on the first working day after Norway's national day, even though the decision had been on the table for a few weeks," wrote Rolf van der Brink in Dagens Media (my translation) in one of several harsh reactions to yesterday's news that Schibsted was buying into Metro International's Swedish freesheet operation and closing its own free paper there, Punkt SE, with immediate effect.
The announcement came as no surprise to the region's media commentators, I've certainly covered the rumours of a courtship between the two media giants on several occasions - like here. What came as more of a surprise was that Schibsted's and Metro's new partnership will be so limited, many investors were hoping for a full-scale wedding, which of course begs the question: what next?
Neither of the two parties refused to rule out that this could be the first, tentative beginning of a full-fledged relationship - that we could see the two freesheet publishers strike similar deals in the other markets where they are head-to-head such as France and Spain. But both parties also emphasised that no such deals were currently on the table.
"We are now entering a freesheet 2.0" phase," said Metro's CEO, Per Mikael Jensen when I interviewed him about the freesheet giant's ongoing strategic review recently, and indicated that this phase would be characterised by consolidation and online expansion (parts of that interview is here). In an interview with Journalisten.dk (in Danish) yesterday, Jensen again promised that new deals were forthcoming.
Martin Jönsson sums up the situation, and the stakes involved, eloquently for Svenska Dagbladet (freely translated):
In an analysis of the deal, Citigroup concludes that the analysts got what they wanted – at least half way – and that the effect will be remarkably positive. But ideally they would like Metro and Schibsted to go all the way and merge the two companies.
Will it happen?... The business relationship between the two media giants has been about as complex as the average episode of the hospital soap Grey's Anatomy. They have flirted and dated for years, and they have had affairs with others (like Metro's advertisement partnership with GP/Stampen) and lived a hard single life (Punkt SE)... only now was the timing right for a more serious relationship.
The explanation is, slightly cynically put, that they are both equally desperate... Metro... still needs a more stable foundation in order to grab a bigger share of the national advertisement market and expand online. Schibsted, on the other hand, had to find a quick way to end the escalating losses at Punkt SE without loosing its presence in the Swedish freesheet market entirely
But free has certainly been pricy for the Norwegian newspaper giant, writes Daniel Sandström in Sydsvenskan, and there's probably not much comfort in looking back of the kind of battle cries the company's admirals so confidently spouted when Punkt SE launched in 2006....