Vivendi quiet on NBC Uni stake

CEO says Street won't know until mid-November

Whether or not Vivendi has made a decision to cash out of its 20% stake in NBC Universal is still a secret, even after top executives at both companies addressed the issue this week.

On Wednesday, Vivendi CEO Jean-Bernard Levy indicated that Wall Street wouldn't be informed of a sale -- if there is to be one -- until around the time Vivendi is able to exercise its option on NBC Universal in about mid-November.

"You will know more at that time," he said at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia XVIII Conference in New York. "It's not something we should decide now."

A day earlier NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker also opted to punt. "Jean-Bernard will be here tomorrow," he told curious Wall Street analysts.

Depending on the analyst asked, NBC Universal is worth from $20 billion-$35 billion, so Vivendi could get from $4 billion-$7 billion for its share.

Wednesday's conference also featured remarks by Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes, Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman and CBS CEO Leslie Moonves.

Like just about every other executive speaking at the conference a day prior, the trio was optimistic about TV advertising. Moonves and Dauman both said automobile ads are coming back, specifically noting GM.

Dauman also said Microsoft has been buying ads for Bing, it's Internet search product, and mobile phones, retail, food and movies are stronger than they had been. In the case of movies, he noted that a recovery there is especially gratifying given that there are fewer titles to advertise nowadays.

Moonves noted a big drop in ratings for NBC's Jay Leno show from Monday to Tuesday, but he didn't take the bait when asked to make a prediction. "No matter how well Leno does, there's going to be more available dollars and ratings points for people who buy dramas," he said.

Moonves and Bewkes were also high on TV Everywhere, a trial involving Time Warner, CBS and many others whereby shows are available online for free, but only to Comcast subscribers.

"Nielsen will count it as a network viewer," Moonves said. "The key for us is to get full credit for online viewing of "CSI,' the same way you would watching it Thursday night on CBS."

Bewkes and Dauman were slightly at odds in regard to Redbox, the renter of cheap DVDs via kiosks. Viacom's Paramount struck a deal with Redbox for day-and-date delivery while Warner Bros. insisted on a 28-day delay and was sued by Redbox.

Cheap rentals have their place, said Bewkes, but "it cant be while we're trying to offer higher-cost rentals or trying to sell a copy."

"We felt that rather than litigate this, let's test it," Dauman said. "We want to play with new technology."

CBS is also getting into the movie business again, so Moonves was also asked about Redbox.

"That is such a hot potato, with half the studios suing them and half of them loving it," said Moonves.

"Since our first movie doesn't come out until Jan. 22, I will say absolutely nothing about Redbox and wish them all well, the people that are suing them and the people that are in business with them," he said. "I got enough fights on my own hands."
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