Taking on USA Nets

Messier: Viv U must consolidate its stake

NEW YORK — Vivendi Universal chairman-CEO Jean Marie Messier said the company must eventually consolidate 40%-owned USA Networks “one way or the other” as a necessary step toward boosting the French conglom’s profile with U.S. investors.

“We will have to find a way,” he told the Goldman Sachs media conference in New York, since it doesn’t seem that the value of the USA stake is reflected in Vivendi’s share price.

“It’s totally understandable,” said USA chairman-CEO Barry Diller during a presentation later in the day. “Whether they can do it or not depends on a series of things.” He spoke cryptically about “tectonic plates” of change in the media landscape, where companies must grow by acquisition — or sell. “We are alert and happy buyers (and) reluctant sellers. We’re open to anything that allows USA to do what it does.”

He stressed that USA and Vivendi enjoy cordial relations and that he sees the companies’ futures as intertwined.

There’s been speculation that Vivendi has pondered a deal to land Liberty Media’s chunk of USA.

Messier noted that he’s looking for strategic alliances, partnerships and distribution agreements, not mega-mergers. “We are not a candidate to buy DirecTV. We are not a candidate to buy AT&T Broadband,” he said.

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