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Canal Plus ready to cut Sogecable link

Co., Prisa pay TV partnership dates back to 1990

MADRID — France’s debt-laden Canal Plus Group has opened the door to an exit from Spanish pay TV leader Sogecable, informing Spain’s stock exchange authorities Wednesday that it will not renew its shareholding pact with Spain’s Prisa after it lapses at the end of the year.

Whether it actually will cash in its chips at Sogecable, its most successful overseas pay TV partnership, is another matter.

Managing shareholder Prisa and CPG both have 16% apiece in Sogecable.

First struck in 1999 and most recently renewed 2001 to run through 2003, the pact prevents either partner from selling its stake in Sogecable without the other’s consent.

“From 2004, we will be free to keep or sell our stake in Sogecable,” a CPG source said.

When Jean-Rene Fourtou took up the reins of Vivendi Universal, he insisted that CPG’s Sogecable stake was not for sale.

The Spanish pay TV leader posted net profits in 2001, and Prisa and Canal Plus have a pay TV partnership that dates back to their joint launch of premium paybox Canal Plus in 1990.

With Sogecable’s future more stable after it tied down a $1.6 billion syndicated loan this month to pay for its merger with Via Digital, CPG’s sale of its 16% in the pay TV operator could provide invaluable extraordinary income next year, if the price is right.

(Alison James contributed to this report.)

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