Vivendi play may indicate NBC Uni plan

Company keeping quiet on intentions for its 20% stake

NEW YORK -- Vivendi may be inching closer to deciding in favor of a possible sale of its 20% stake in NBC Universal.

Market chatter on Thursday, first reported by Bloomberg, focused on a sweetened counter bid from Vivendi, which could be announced early Friday, for Brazilian telco GVT, whose shares rose. Vivendi had previously offered $3 billion, but was recently trumped by a $3.7 billion offer from Spanish telecom giant Telefonica.

A play for GVT is seen as making a sale of Vivendi's 20% stake in NBC Universal, valued by analysts at $5 billion-$7 billion, more likely as the conglomerate would want to avoid straining its finances as it looks for acquisitions in markets with higher growth.

A Vivendi spokeswoman declined comment on the company's plans. A spokeswoman for Comcast, which is the frontrunner to take control of NBC Uni if Vivendi sells, also declined comment. Comcast has discussed a merger of its cable networks with NBC Uni that would give it a 51% controlling stake in the new firm.

Vivendi has played its cards close to the vest on NBC Uni as it nears the Nov. 15 start of an annual window during which it can inform GE of a decision to sell its stake. The window runs into early December.

Some media reports had in recent days raised hope of a formal decision on NBC Uni at a Vivendi board meeting Wednesday, but the company has made clear it is in no rush to make its plans official before mid-November. The board meeting focused on GVT, but the NBC Uni issue was believed to be a topic mentioned there as well -- without a formal decision on the latter.

Many on Wall Street say Vivendi's strategy to remain mum may give it more leverage as it tries to get as high a price tag for its interest in NBC Uni as possible.

Friday will see several events take place that could shed additional light into the future of NBC Uni. Beyond the expected comment from Vivendi on GVT, GE will report third-quarter earnings and host a conference call with chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt.

Also, Liberty Media will host an investor day in midtown Manhattan, where chairman John Malone and CEO Greg Maffei are likely to get questions on their interest in NBC Uni. Liberty is the only major industry player not to have commented on its intentions, although it is expected to only wait in the wings in case the Comcast deal falls through.

And across town, News Corp. will hold its annual shareholder meeting, with chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch and his deputy Chase Carey possibly sharing their take on NBC Uni.