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PARIS — Shareholders of the telecoms and media giant Vivendi approved the appointment of five new members to the Supervisory Board in a meeting that was interrupted by protests from the French feminist group Le Barbe.
As management board chairman Jean-Rene Fourtou left the stage protestors rose from various spots in the audience, held up symbolic fabric beards and rushed towards him with shouts of “You must go!” And he may, considering one of the newly elected members is Vincent Bollore, the company’s largest shareholder with 5 percent through his private holding company. He was given a seat on the board in December 2012 and is widely rumored to take over as head of the board later this year.
“Making announcements is extremely tricky,” said Fourtou, encouraging patience as the company undergoes a soul-searching shakeup and speaking about the media’s need to create news. “Bear in mind we are not in a great hurry.”
He urged the audience to have patience as the company finds its footing in the current economic climate. Shareholders have long been looking for the company to make a commitment to its media and content business. Vivendi has undergone a strategic shift in the last few years to move away from its international telecoms holdings and concentrate on its media and games business, including Universal Music Group, French TV giant Canal Plus and its majority stake in videogame maker Activision Blizzard, and executives repeatedly reinforced this message during the meeting.
In one of several moves to unload its telecom holdings, Fourtou held out the prospect of floating a possible IPO for French phone carrier SFR at a later date, after strengthening its position and strategy in a cutthroat French market altered by the entry of extreme low-cost carriers within the last year. SFR is expecting a decline of 12 percent this year, but has reinvested in 4G infrastructure and hopes for improved performance of the division in the next two years before examining all options. He stressed that Vivendi would not unload the subsidiary too quickly in an effort to please analysts or shareholders.
The company is also currently examining bids to sell Maroc Telecom, which are estimated by analysts to be upwards of €4 billion, and expects the sale to be finalized in the fall. The company intends to use the cash to reduce debt and hang on to the cash for future moves or acquisitions.
“The supervisory board initiated a strategic review to strengthen our leadership in media and content,” said chair Jean-Francois Dubos. “The process is underway to distribute content at all times across all platforms.”
In 2012, Santa Monica-based Activision Blizzard, of which Vivendi owns as 61 percent stake, continued to show tremendous strength — raking in over $1 billion in sales since the launch of Call of Duty, and its Universal Music Group now accounts for over 40 percent of digital music sales across all available platforms.
Its pay-TV division is facing a tougher future, as CanalPlus will be hit by higher taxes in France next year, as the VAT will increase from 7 to 10 percent and Vivendi does not anticipate being able to pass on that cost to households in the current financial market.
CFO Philippe Capron also noted Vivendi has set aside a €945 million towards its long-running legal battle with Liberty Media over the 2001 sale of USA Networks to the Colorado-based company.
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