No inside info for Bronfman

Overall deal could be worth $15 bil; Malone still in hunt

NEW YORK — Vivendi Universal on Wednesday reassured potential bidders that Edgar Bronfman Jr. has no insider information and no inside track on the sale of Vivendi Universal Entertainment.

“Edgar Bronfman Jr. does not possess any recent and substantial information concerning this contemplated transaction. The first (discussions) took place May 19 without his presence,” Viv U said in a statement.

As expected, Bronfman and his father stepped down from key Viv U board committees. The French conglom’s stock surged 7.4% on news that the former Seagram CEO is assembling a bid for its U.S. entertainment biz.

Universal insiders, jaded by months of takeover speculation, seemed upbeat at the prospect of the second reign of Bronfman.

But Wall Streeters disagreed about his chances of retaking the film, TV, theme park and music empire he sold three years ago.

“Look what he did to shareholder money, to his own family’s money,” said one skeptic. Viv U shares have lost nearly 80% of their value since he divested U.

That’s only half true, supporters insist. “If you bought when Edgar became CEO and sold when he stopped being CEO, you made a lot of money,” one said.

Bronfman was in New York Wednesday at back-to-back investor meetings to line up financing for the bid. He’s got some cash committed but won’t say how much.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” he acknowledged Tuesday night.

Malone front-runner?

Several big investors still think John Malone’s Liberty Media is the front-runner and would like to see Barry Diller jump in and take U’s helm.

Diller stepped down as chairman of VUE several months ago and swears he’s got zero interest in running a studio.

“I don’t believe Barry even a little bit,” said one fund manager. “He never cares if he’s embarrassed or wrong. He went from running Paramount to Home Shopping Network.”

However, Viv U insiders say, there’s no love lost between chairman-CEO Jean-Rene Fourtou and Diller.

Now Bronfman needs to raise billions of dollars. Just how much depends on the stake Viv U will keep in the new entity he wants to form in partnership with Cablevision. The New York-area cabler will contribute its three cable nets, AMC, IFC and WE — valued at $3 billion-$4 billion — in return for a stake in the new U.

Deal worth $15 bil

Overall deal could be worth about $15 billion. Given all the variables, it’s hard to tell how that compares with a standing bid from a consortium led by Marvin Davis said to be worth under $20 billion.

The major difference is that Bronfman provides a strategic partner while Davis’ backers so far are purely financial. But they’re heavyweights like Texas Pacific Group, Bain Capital and Carlyle Group.

Some on Wall Street speculated that the two bids could merge. “You can never say never, but that’s not crossed the radar,” said a person close to the Bronfman effort.

(Liza Klaussmann in Paris contributed to this report.)

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