Zurich's Tamedia group has announced it will launch its own free newspaper in French-speaking Switzerland, competing with Le Matin Bleu, due out next week.
The first issue of 20 Minutes will come out next spring, with local editions in Geneva and Lausanne and targeting 120,000 readers.
Tamedia's decision to push ahead with a format it has used successfully in German-speaking Switzerland comes a no surprise. "It was expected," admitted Théo Bouchat, director of the Matin group of papers.
The competition between the two free papers comes about after joint-venture talks between Tamedia and Le Matin Bleu's owner, Lausanne-based Edipresse, collapsed earlier this year.
"Edipresse decided to go it alone," said Tamedia spokeswoman Franziska Hügli. "But there is enough room for two free papers in French-speaking Switzerland."
Bouchat is not sure there is space enough though. "It's the market that will decide if both papers can live side by side," he said.
Tamedia's tabloid 20 Minuten, distributed in stations, buses and trams has found its public since its launch in 1999 by a Norwegian group.
Starting in Zurich, it has spread to Bern, Basel, Lucerne, Zug and recently St Gallen. It also came out on top in its battle with the Swedish-owned Metropol in 2002 before being bought out by Tamedia, which sacrificed its own project at the time.
The German-language tabloid is the most widely read newspaper in Switzerland with 948,000 readers according to official numbers.
Young city dwellers
The new free paper will have a 30-strong news team based either in Lausanne or Geneva. It will be targeted at a young and urban audience, and like its German-language forebear, aims to provide all the main news in just 20 minutes.
It competitor, Le Matin Bleu, will be off to a more modest start next week, with a print run of 100,000 copies from Monday to Friday and just 15 journalists.
"But it will benefit from an existing structure, especially marketing and layout," said Bouchat.
Its target audience and format will be the same as 20 Minutes, but it will cover the entire Lake Geneva area with one edition. "We want to see how well the paper is received before deciding on two separate editions," added Bouchat.
Le Matin Bleu is designed to complement its stablemate Le Matin, the most widely read paper in western Switzerland with a publishing run of 350,000.
The two titles combined expect a total readership of 450,000, which will make them the most important vehicle for advertising in the region.
swissinfo with agencies
Edipresse is launching Le Matin Bleu on Monday, October 31.
the free paper's initial print run will be 100,000 copies with just one edition for the entire Lake Geneva area.
It will employ 15 journalists in Geneva and Lausanne.
Tamedia will be making its only foray so far into French-speaking Switzerland with the launch of 20 Minutes next year.
With a print run of 120,000 copies, it will be edited by a team of 30 journalists.