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France’s giant communications and services group Vivendi has hinted that it is ready to sell its free television interests in order to concentrate on pay TV.

Vivendi is currently the main shareholder in Europe’s largest pay television operation, Canal Plus, with 34%.

The group also has some 19% of Audiofina, the holding company of Luxembourg-based CLT-Ufa, which controls such free TV networks as RTL, RTL2 and Super RTL, as well as having stakes in French web M6 and wide-ranging radio interests.

Speaking to French newspaper La Tribune earlier this week, Vivendi chairman Jean-Marie Messier said that Vivendi’s stake in Audiofina “is not strategic É our vocation is pay television, not free television.” CLT-Ufa has essentially gotten out of the pay TV business by agreeing to sell out of German paybox Premiere, in favor of the Kirch Group.

Messier’s statement is being seen as the first sign that the Vivendi chairman is prepared to sell his shares in Audiofina, valued in the region of $500 million.

If Vivendi does bail out of Audiofina, the move is likely to set off a chain reaction. The Bertelsmann group, which is partners with CLT in CLT-Ufa, could well try to pick up the Vivendi stake, rather than see an outsider come into the shareholder mix.

There is also speculation that Belgian financier Albert Frere, who holds 52% of Audiofina, may be willing to sell his stake as part of an overall strategy to streamline his investment portfolio.