EC OKs Canal+, telco control of AOL France

Companies to grab 55% of online giant's French outfit

PARIS — The European Commission has given the go-ahead for pay TV group Canal Plus and French telephone company Cegetel to take a majority stake in America Online France.

The decision means that Cegetel and Canal Plus, which both have Vivendi (formerly Compagnie Generale des Eaux) as their main shareholder, will take 55% of AOL France and CompuServe France. America Online and Germany’s Bertelsmann group will control the remaining 45%.

The deal was originally signed in January, subject to approval from Brussels. It marks the first tangible example of Vivendi chairman Jean-Marie Messier’s vision of marrying television programming and subscription service expertise (via Canal Plus), with telephony (Cegetel) and the internet.

The marriage also means that AOL France becomes the market leader in Gaul with some 285,000 subscribers, compared to 280,000 for France Telecom’s Wanadoo service.

On a strategic front, Messier watchers see the alliance as a chance for Vivendi to work closer with Bertelsmann. Vivendi, via Havas, has a minority stake in CLT-Ufa, in which Bertelsmann has a major share.

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