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Middelhoff exits Vivendi board

Move not sour relations, spokesman sez

LONDON — Bertelsmann’s chief executive, Thomas Middelhoff, is vacating his place on Vivendi Universal’s board to avoid possible future conflict of interest between Europe’s two largest media groups.

A Bertelsmann spokesman said Tuesday’s move in no way reflected souring relations between the two media giants, and the two were continuing to discuss possible cooperation on European sports rights.

“There is still tight cooperation between the two companies,” the spokesman said.

Industry sources said the two companies were in talks on a number of possible deals in television, publishing and music.

In the television arena, Bertelsmann’s TV arm RTL, Vivendi Universal’s pay-TV arm Canal Plus and sports communications group JC Darmon were discussing the possibility of pooling their sports rights interests in a pan-European company, the sources said.

Vivendi Universal was set to sell to Bertelsmann its 50% stake in French book club France Loisirs, which is currently jointly owned by the two media groups, other industry sources said.

Meanwhile, Bertelsmann is considering its stake in online music site GetMusic.com, a joint venture between Bertelsmann Music Group and Universal Music.

Middelhoff joined Vivendi Universal’s board in May 1999 as an independent director.

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