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Vivendi chairman steps in to help Universal’s EMI bid

By | Published on Monday 9 July 2012


The Chairman of Universal Music owner Vivendi is personally leading the charm offensive to secure regulator approval for the major’s EMI bid, according to the Financial Times.

The paper says that Jean-René Fourtou has indicated to European officials that his company is now willing to offer concessions to tackle various concerns expressed by regulators about the deal, while insisting that the Paris-based conglom is better placed than anyone to protect some of Europe’s most prized musical catalogues, such as those created by The Beatles and French singer-songwriter Charles Aznavour, with a long-term vision to develop its cultural assets, rather than plans for quick-win exploitation.

Fourtou has seemingly become more directly involved in Universal’s bid to buy the EMI record company since the sudden departure of Vivendi CEO Jean-Bernard Levy last month, and his involvement has changed the tone of negotiations between the entertainment major and European Commission regulators, insiders say.

The Vivendi chief’s involvement may suggest that Universal – initially bullish that it could win approval for its deal without having to make concessions – is now starting to sense that it faces a bigger challenge than it originally anticipated, in Europe at least.

As previously reported, the major responded to the EC’s ‘statement of objections’ to the deal last week, and will now have a number of meetings with officials to discuss the issues, where Universal will dispute some of the concerns expressed by its rivals, while also looking to placate regulators and opponents. It is thought that concessions will be offered later this month too.

Although Fourtou’s involvement might indicate concern at Vivendi HQ about the EMI bid – especially given Universal’s commitment to current EMI owners Citigroup to make good any losses the bank makes should the deal fall through and the bankers have to sell to another buyer for a lesser price – some Universal insiders say it actually shows the Chairman’s genuine commitment to the music firm.

As previously reported, there had been rumours that Vivendi – which is facing issues in its tel co business – might split into two companies, or sell off some of its entertainment assets. And indeed Vivendi is looking to reduce its stake in the Activision gaming company. But both Universal’s management and Fourtou have insisted that Vivendi remains committed to its music business.

In related news, Vivendi has also denied that a possible bid to buy Universal by Edgar Bronfman Jr was discussed when Fourtou met the former Warner CEO, who created the Universal Music Group in the 1990s, about a month ago.