French media conglom's profits rise 36%

PARIS — French media and services giant Vivendi posted upbeat results for 1998 with profits rising 36% while revenues increased by only 25%. Speaking at a press conference Thursday, Vivendi prexy Jean-Marie Messier said the company’s overall revenues had reached $31.7 billion with profits of $1.27 billion for the year.

Although Vivendi has traditionally been known as a utilities company, Messier has made no secret of his desire to create a communications powerhouse and has forged ahead in telephony, Internet and publishing. Through its 34% stake in Canal Plus, Vivendi is also the single largest shareholder of the Gallic paybox.

The communications division of Vivendi had revenues of 5.96 billion euros with operating profits jumping to $280 million from a deficit in 1997 of $199 million. Messier attributed the hike to the addition of Havas into the mix.

Future plans

Addressing the issue of Vivendi’s recent purchase of Pathe stock, Messier contended the move was merely defensive in favor of partner Canal Plus — not a way for the paybox to cozy up to Rupert Murdoch, whose BSkyB is partly owned by Pathe.

When the TPS satellite consortium looked to be making a move on Pathe in January, Vivendi stepped in and with Canal Plus now owns nearly 30%. A Pathe-TPS alliance would have greatly upset Canal Plus, which is Europe’s leading pay service.

Still, when Canal Plus looked to be attempting its own alliance with Murdoch recently, a deal could not be struck. Referring to the breakdown in talks, Messier maintained the pivotal reason rested on a list of requirements presented by Canal Plus prexy Pierre Lescure — including a demand for French control of the merged company — that were not being met.

The controversial discussions, Messier said, would not be resumed unless Murdoch was ready to capitulate. “Lescure will not take the initiative again,” Messier concluded.

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