Sounds fine for U Music

Universal all ears for Vivendi/Seagram merger

LONDON — The possible marriage of Vivendi and Seagram is music to the ears of Universal Music Intl., per its chairman and CEO Jorgen Larsen.

On Wednesday, at a press conference during the Intl. Federation of the Phonographic Industry confab on music piracy, Larsen — careful not to confirm anything and emphasizing he is not involved in the talks — said this deal would be quite different from other recent mega-mergers.

“It is not us following the AOL/Time Warner model, it’s moving the balance back toward Europe,” Larsen said, adding that what Vivendi brings to the table is “totally complimentary, totally additive to what we have already.”

Larsen predicted, however, that negotiations would still take “several weeks” before a deal could be struck.

Larsen said that, unlike Universal’s takeover of Polygram, in music there would be “no overlap” and therefore none of the messy restructuring that characterized the integration of Polygram’s music interests.

He also agreed that a key benefit to his company would be supplying content to Vizzavi, Vivendi’s continental partnership with mobile phone giant Vodafone.

That joint venture boasts an initial 70 million subscribers — three-quarters of whom are mobile phone customers — who would be able to access Universal’s music over the Internet.

A Vivendi source later added that acquiring music content is crucial to the company’s strategy. “The group has always felt it was light in music,” he said.

But the music biz is also at a crossroads.

The IFPI, the record industry’s international org, revealed that the global pirate music market was worth $4.1 billion in 1999, up 13% and representing 1.9 billion units sold.

Illegal CD sales now exceed 500 million units annually and an estimated 25 million illegal files are available on the ‘Net.

There has been some success in combating piracy — notably the Ukrainian CD plants currently suspended from operating.

But Jay Samit, EMI’s senior VP for new media, stressed that fans must be lured away from temptation with new, convenient and ingenious ways to consume music.

“We have to make buying music as easy as stealing music,” Samit said.

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