Viv U, Lagardere mull media merger

Execs have been meeting in secret to discuss combination

PARIS — Vivendi Universal and Lagardere are mulling a merger of their Gallic media groups and have begun to hammer out details of the new group’s power structure.

Execs have been meeting secretly over the past few weeks to discuss the combination, which would bring together assets like Viv U’s TV group Canal Plus, Universal Music and mobile phone operator SFR with Lagardere’s nine theme channels, its radio nets and the magazine and book publishing arms the group bought from Viv U earlier this year.

Lagardere already owns 34% of Canal Plus’ satellite platform CanalSatellite.

A merger would help fulfill the dreams of Arnaud Lagardere, who has made no secret of his wish to exit the defense and aeronautics biz that made the company its fortune and turn it into a media-based outfit. Lagardere said in February that he has a timetable to pull out of the group’s traditional businesses with the goal of becoming one of the world’s top three media companies.

If the companies merge, Viv U topper Jean-Rene Fourtou would take the reins of the new group, succeeded by Lagardere two years later, according to French daily Le Canard Enchaine.

The paper also said that the French government would back the merger as it would ensure Viv U’s French media assets wouldn’t fall into the hands of British telco Vodafone, which has been stalking Viv U to gain control of SFR.

Viv U and Lagardere declined to comment.

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