Games infuse Vivendi's '06 profit

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PARIS -- French media and telecommunications group Vivendi on Wednesday announced its "best-ever" annual profits, with a 18% jump in 2006 profit to €2.6 billion ($3.4 billion), boosted by its successful video games division and pay TV units, among others.

Vivendi's fourth-quarter profit fell 51% year-over-year from €1.3 billion to €610 million ($800 million), which included one-time gains. Adjusted profit, however, hit €505 million ($663.2 million), up 25%. Vivendi raised its dividend 20% to €1.20 ($1.60) a share.

Full-year earnings before interest and tax rose 9.6% to €4.4 billion ($5.8 billion).

Universal Music Group's EBITA came to €744 million ($976.7 million), 9.3% higher than 2005 thanks to legal settlements and best-sellers including U2, Andrea Bocelli, Snow Patrol, Nelly Furtado and the Killers, in addition to strong carryover sales from the Pussycat Dolls.

The group plans to strengthen its music unit with the acquisition of BMG's music publishing business, "thus creating the world leader in music publishing," Vivendi chairman and CEO Jean-Bernard Levy said.

French pay TV giant Canal Plus took in €251 million ($329.6 million) for the year, not including transition costs totaling €177 million ($232.4 million) from the group's merger with rival operator TPS and despite the high cost of broadcasting World Cup soccer games.

Vivendi Games took off in 2006, making €115 million ($151 million), 109% more than last year, driven by the launches of the Sierra Online and Vivendi Games Mobile divisions, the continued global success of "The World of Warcraft" and such new releases as "Scarface: The World Is Yours," "Ice Age: The Meltdown" and "Eragon."

"This is the best result ever achieved by Vivendi," Levy said. Vivendi is expecting a 2007 adjusted profit of €2.7 billion.
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