Canal expands ops

Vivendi U TV, film arm buys Gaul producer

PARIS — The Canal Plus Group is expected to announce today that it will become a majority shareholder in Expand, one of France’s leading production companies.

Vivendi Universal’s TV and film division already owns a 33.3% stake in Expand via its subsid StudioCanal, whose TV production arm Ellipse Images merged with Expand last year.

Canal Plus intends to exercise its option on another 22% after months of negotiation over the share price.

Deal, which comes just days after TF1 struck a first look deal with Dutch production outfit Endemol, is another indication that securing content is the big priority in Europe.

Like Endemol, famed for reality show formats such as “Big Brother,” Expand produces mass market TV shows, such as the adventure game “Fort Boyard” (which is broadcast in 48 countries), and it recently developed a yet-to-be-aired version of “Survivor” for TF1, France’s leading private free-to-air web. The company produced 2,000 broadcast hours of television last year. Endemol France produced 1,330 hours.

Friday’s announcement is seen as a prelude to long-awaited revelations on the fate of Vivendi U’s Euro film operations at StudioCanal.

Company sources were keeping tight-lipped about future developments Thursday while denying speculation that the group may merge Expand and StudioCanal into a single, quoted company, retaining only the Expand name.

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