Vivendi chief happy with showbiz stakes

Includes UMG, 20% of NBC Uni, 54% of Activision Blizzard

NEW YORK -- Vivendi chief Jean-Bernard Levy sees upside to his company's entertainment assets, which include Universal Music Group, a 20% stake in NBC Universal and a majority stake in Activision Blizzard.

"Jeff Zucker is managing very well through a transition period for NBC Universal," the company's CEO and chairman of the management board told The Hollywood Reporter. "The performance has been good recently."

With an option to sell its NBC Uni stake coming up in December -- and every December until 2016 -- Levy said Vivendi's board will consider further growth potential and currency rates, among other things. "It will be a rational decision by the board within about two months' time," he said.

Does the recurring market chatter that 80% owner General Electric could sell its NBC Uni stake sooner or later make a difference in Vivendi's decision process? Levy said yes. "It's different when you want to sell alongside a willing majority seller or opposite a potentially unwilling majority owner," he explained without wanting to guess what GE might do and when.

Meanwhile, he is happy to have transformed Vivendi's video game business via the Activision Blizzard merger.

Levy says it's too early to say if or when his firm might boost its stake in the company beyond 54%, but he likes its early success and sees more on the horizon. He cites the quality of management and product as the reasons for the early success.

"The company is really focusing on key franchises but not too many," Levy said. "Some products (with less potential) we are not keeping but selling to our competitors."

Asked whether Activision will go after Rockstar Games, whose deal with Take-Two Interactive comes up in February, Levy provided a possible hint. "As a very large and successful company, we are the best possible destination for quality studios," he said.

The CEO also explained why he thinks the music business is about to turn a corner: CD sales already have declined a lot, and Universal and other music firms have launched a slew of new services and products that consumers will increasingly embrace.

Given NBC Uni's recent deal with iTunes for flexible pricing of its TV content, Levy thinks Apple also could be open for a similar treatment of music product. "It is a good sign that it can be flexible," he said.
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