Vivendi sees music biz hitting digital stride

'Close to the turning point,' says CEO Levy

NEW YORK -- Vivendi expects the music business could finally hit its digital growth stride, and Universal Music Group will shine, Jean-Bernard Levy, chairman of the management board and CEO, said here Wednesday.

"I think we are close to the turning point," he told the Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference here about the overall music business.

He couldn't say though if digital music sales would really ramp up this year, next or in two years.

Levy also said Wednesday "we are not in favor of walled gardens" in the digital age.

He told investors he would like to buy out its minority partners in pay TV firm Canal Plus to streamline Vivendi's corporate structure. It is part of the reason that Vivendi's stock remains below where it should be is that it has a complex structure, he argued.

"Buying out our minorities would be a priority," Levy said.

Vivendi owns 65% of Canal Plus, French media giant Lagardere 20%, and French broadcasters TF1 9.9% and M6 5.1%.

Vivendi has an option at the end of 2009 to buy out TF1 and M6. Levy previously told a French newspaper Vivendi would pay at least 1.15 billion euros if it exercises that option.

Asked if a weaker economy has started dragging down the momentum of Canal Plus and other businesses, Levy said: "On Canal Plus today we're not seeing an effect. Our subscription-based model is very resistant...We do have very resilient business models."

The issue of what will happen to Vivendi's 20% stake in NBC Universal did not come up Wednesday.

Asked about the video game business, Levy suggested the traditional sharp console cycle could be history. "We will see more regular growth," he suggested. He pointed to competitors' release of new hardware at different times and PlayStation 2 sales also still being solid.
The CEO also said Wednesday he feels Vivendi has an "Insufficient" presence in fast-growing emerging markets.

For example, while its video games and music businesses do business abroad, there is room for them to boost it, he said.