Viv U mulls unit sales

Canal Plus Group could be sold as part of restructuring

PARIS — Rumors continued to circulate in Paris on Monday as to which units stricken entertainment conglom Vivendi Universal will put on the block to reduce its vast debt.

Canal Plus Group is back in the spotlight after CEO Xavier Couture admitted it could be sold as part of its parent company’s restructuring.

“I am the boss of a company which is part of Vivendi’s assets. If the sale of part of this company’s assets became an issue, then why not Canal Plus?” Couture said on French radio. He insisted, however, that the production, editing and distribution assets of the company couldn’t be split up, as the unity of the company “is essential to its health.”

Broadcasters TF1, M6 and distrib Pathe are reportedly mulling a bid for Canal Plus Group, which operates paybox Canal Plus, digital platform CanalSatellite, movie studio StudioCanal, TV programming unit Expand and several international units. Canal Plus red ink is mostly due to its involvement with Italo paybox Telepiu, which Rupert Murdoch wants to roll into News Corp. paybox Stream.

Meanwhile, as French stock market watchdog the Comission des Operations de Bourse continued its probe into Viv U’s books Monday, it was revealed the company may have used deceptive methods to increase its stake in Polish energy conglom Elektrim in 2000.

The incident adds an additional tarnish to Viv U’s arcane financial operations, something new topper Jean-Rene Fourtou could have done without in his efforts to build investor confidence in the company.

Viv U was among the key European companies hit by a stock slide Monday, falling between 10% and 13%. In New York, the share price closed down 57¢ at $16.20, off 3%.

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