Italian wedding off

Vivendi U's Telepiu in talks to buy Stream

MILAN — Italy’s pay TV operators Telepiu and Stream have abandoned plans to merge, the country’s antitrust body said last week.

Instead, Vivendi U’s Telepiu is discussing the acquisition of Stream, which is controlled by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. and Italo telco giant Telecom Italia on a 50-50 basis.

The antitrust body had been widely expected to block the merger after it had already announced it opposed a single national pay TV platform controlled by two international giants such as Vivendi U and News Corp.

But after the authority indicated that a single shareholder would be acceptable, Vivendi U and News Corp. started working on a new plan.

Thursday, the antitrust body did not unveil any verdict as was expected and said it was awaiting further developments.

Quitting Italy

Murdoch is said to be ready to sell Stream and pull out of Italy, while Telecom Italia is known to be ready to dispose of its stake.

The two financially beleaguered platforms decided to merge their operations earlier this year to curb heavy losses incurred mostly through the high cost of soccer rights.

Vivendi U recently raised a lot of cash and is expected to have no trouble buying out Stream. Chairman-CEO Jean-Marie Messier has said that the combined entity will breakeven by the end of 2003. Telepiu wouldn’t have broken even before 2006.

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