Thursday, May 22, 2003

Seagram mogul expresses interest in Vivendi assets

The Associated Press

PARIS - Edgar Bronfman Jr. of Canada's Seagram empire has expressed an interest in buying back part of Vivendi Universal's U.S. assets, the French media giant said Wednesday.

The news that Bronfman - vice chairman of Vivendi's board - has joined the crowd eyeing the businesses sent the company's share price up 5.8 percent to close at 14.70 euros ($17.20) on the Paris stock exchange.

Bronfman told Vivendi chairman Jean-Rene Fourtou that he wants to lead a consortium of potential buyers for the assets, many of which were among those Bronfman sold to Vivendi in 2000, the company said in a statement.

Fourtou has indicated that he plans to refocus Vivendi on telecommunications and has been looking to sell assets to reduce the company's heavy debt.

Vivendi's U.S. entertainment assets include the world's largest music company, Vivendi Universal Music, as well as the Universal film studio and theme parks, and the USA and Sci-Fi cable networks.

A spokesman for Bronfman said Bronfman was unavailable for comment Wednesday on his plans.

A French analyst who follows Vivendi put the assets' total value at between $15 billion and $20 billion.

He said Bronfman appears to be a serious contender. Partners in his bid will likely include New York-based cable operator Cablevision Systems, published reports said.

The sale of the assets has attracted keen interest in the United States.

Bronfman faces competition from U.S. billionaire Marvin Davis, who once owned Fox Studios. Davis has offered to buy all the entertainment assets for about $15 billion in cash and the assumption of about $5 billion in debt.

Other U.S. companies that have shown an interest include Liberty Media Corp.; General Electric Co., which owns NBC; and Viacom Inc., the owner of CBS and MTV.

But it remains unclear whether Fourtou wants to sell all the assets together, or hope for a better price by selling them in pieces.

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