Buyers circle Canal Plus Benelux

Vivendi close to offloading pay TV assets

BRUSSELS — Troubled media conglom Vivendi could at last be on the verge of selling substantial parts of its pay TV operation Canal Plus Benelux, according to Belgian national daily Le Soir.

The newspaper reported that after being up for sale for a year, the paybox has now found buyers for two of the three separate units of its business.

The French-language division, Canal Plus Belgium, is about to be sold to a consortium comprising Belgian VC Deficom, investment firm Socofe and a group of about 12 cable operators, ACM (Association Cable Multimedia). ACM could take 70% of the company, with the remaining shareholding split equally between Deficom and Socofe.

Meanwhile, cablers Telenet and Interkabel are reportedly close to a deal over the Flemish arm of the operation, Canaal Plus Vlaanderen. However, no price or completion date for the buy has been revealed.

Vivendi remains on the lookout for a suitor for Dutch unit Canal Plus Nederland. The braodcasting and cable giant UPC has been mentioned, but is an unlikely candidate at a time when it is still $11.8 billion in debt and engaged in a court battle over its restructuring.

The move follows Vivendi’s sale of other Canal Plus units such as Canal Plus Technologies and its share in Italian paybox Telepiu. Canal Plus bought its way into the Benelux region through the acquisition of local operator Nethold in 1997, but now finds itself in the unenviable position of losing subscribers — just 732,000 at the end of 2002 compared to 745,000 the year before.

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