Vivendi, UMG future music to Levy's ears

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NEW YORK -- An upbeat Jean-Bernard Levy, the Paris-based chairman and CEO of Vivendi since 2005, said Wednesday that he expects to meet his company's income forecast for the year and touted his Universal Music Group as the only "healthy and stable" company in the music industry.

Speaking here at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference, Levy said he is "very optimistic" that the French conglomerate will "meet and probably beat" his company's guidance of net income of €2.7 billion ($3.8 billion) for the year, which was set last month.

Because Vivendi's businesses are 70% subscriber-based, Levy also argued that it is "immune" to business cycles, including a possible upcoming recession. In addition to owning UMG and retaining a 20% stake in NBC Universal, the company operates telecom properties in France and Morocco, the French Canal Plus pay TV stations and Vivendi Games, the publisher of role-playing game "World of Warcraft," which has millions of subscribers.

Levy also talked up UMG and painted it as the only record company that has remained successful as the music industry has struggled to adapt to the digital landscape. He admitted that the company still is working to shift its operations into digital mode.

"There is no limit to what Universal Music can do," Levy said. "Everyone understands it is the only stable company in the industry."

He added that the stability was in large part because of UMG's management team, led by chairman and CEO Doug Morris.

Levy said Universal has yet to make a decision about whether to sell its music in a digital rights management-free format, meaning that it can be shared among different users. He said the company is testing DRM-free sales as a way to inform this decision.

Vivendi, which is traded on the Paris Bourse, was up 2.5% on Wednesday to €29.36 ($40.96); its a 52-week high is €33.04. UMG is not traded separately.
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