Viv U’s golden arm

Entertainment reports strong film, TV sales

This article was updated at 5:01 p.m.

Less than a week before it’s to be absorbed into NBC, Vivendi Universal Entertainment on Wednesday reported one of its best-ever sales quarters, with strong perfs from the film and TV divisions driving healthy 21% dollar sales gains compared withthe first three months of last year.

Alas, those numbers will be left to the Peacock, as fast-evaporating parent conglom Vivendi Universal is still grappling with the impact of adverse currency conditions and weakness at its music and videogame units, which contributed to an overall 4% drop in first quarter 2004 sales to e5.97 billion ($7.24 billion) compared to the year-earlier quarter. On a comparable constant currency basis (excluding companies sold last year), however, sales actually increased 11%.

Back in the U.S., Universal Pictures Group on its own reported hefty dollar gains of 35% over last year’s weak box office and video offerings, with strong DVD/video sales from titles like “Lost in Translation,” “American Wedding,” “Cat in the Hat” and “Intolerable Cruelty.” First-quarter theatrical sales were also up at Universal Pictures, thanks to admissions from pics such as “Along Came Polly” and “Dawn of the Dead,” compared to the perf of “The Life of David Gale” in the corresponding quarter of 2003.

The television group increased its top line by 15% on a U.S. dollar basis thanks to licensing revs from “Law & Order: SVU.” Cable nets USA Network and Sci Fi Channel picked up strong ad and affiliate revenues, driven by ratings improvements from “Monk,” “SVU,” “Mad Mad House” and “Stargate SG-1.”

Revs from VUE’s theme parks and resorts held steady, the group said. With revs converted back to euros, however, VUE registered only a 3% hike to $1.8 billion.

French entertainment group Canal Plus reported a 21% drop to $1.1 billion in first-quarter revs, despite strong subscriber growth and a hike in ad sales. Viv U blamed the drop primarily on the sale of Canal Plus’ non-French cable operators including Italy’s Telepiu, Canal Plus Benelux and Canal Plus Belgium.

Universal Music Group suffered an 11% drop in sales due, Viv U said, to the ongoing decline in global music sales, as well as a weaker release schedule, especially compared with the bounty enjoyed in the first quarter of 2003 with the release of rapper 50 Cent’s debut album. UMG’s sales, which totaled $1.18 billion, were softest in France and North America, and strongest in U.K., Germany and Latin America.

Viv U’s game unit fared the worst, with revs dropping 27% to $93 million compared with the same period last year. Company said the decrease was due to disposals, as well as lower returns and price protections on unit sales.

Fortunately for Vivendi’s longer-term future, sales for its lucrative mobile phone unit SFR grew 14%, easing what analysts had feared would be a bigger drop in the company’s overall sales.

Vivendi is scheduled to hold its general meeting in Paris on Thursday and will report its full first quarter 2004 earnings results on May 27.