EC will widen probe of Viv U publishing sale

Deal would give Lagardere 60% of book distrib biz

Vivendi Universal’s asset disposal program was dealt a setback Thursday, as the European Commission said it is widening its probe into the planned $1.5 billion sale of Viv U’s European publishing assets to fellow French group Lagardere.

Review could take another four months and will address the EC’s “serious doubts about the impact of the transaction on several markets, including markets in publishing rights and the distribution and sale of books.”

Deal would give the giant magazine publisher 60% of the book distribution business in France. Commission said the combination of Lagardere’s Hachette Livre and Vivendi Universal Publishing threatens “a reduction of supply or an increase in prices.” Lagardere owns leading consumer magazines like Elle and Car & Driver and already dominates in paperbacks, educational books and tour guides in Europe.

The two parties agreed to the transaction last December as part of Viv U’s debt reduction agenda. The delay could pressure Viv U into becoming less picky on pricing and terms as it negotiates the sale of its entertainment assets.