Viv U arms chip in for profit jump

Earnings rise 22% to $1.1 bil

CANNES — Vivendi Universal delivered more good news Thursday, posting tripled first-quarter profits, slightly higher than analyst expectations. Buoying the results were Viv U’s telco ops, paybox Canal Plus as well as the return to profit of its music and videogame businesses.

Company said earnings rose 22% to E877 million ($1.1 billion) in the first quarter compared with $879.9 million a year earlier, while net income increased to $633.9 million vs. $209.6 million.

Canal Plus saw earnings rise 42%, posting $166.7 million in net income. StudioCanal pulled its weight within the Canal Plus group, earning $23 million, up 51%.

Viv U’s Universal Music Group and Vivendi Universal Games bounced back into the black in the first quarter. Music subsid reported earnings of $45 million compared with a loss of $13.8 million in the same period last year.

Universal Games, Viv U’s smallest subsid, was the fastest-growing unit in the first quarter, posting earnings of $13.8 million compared with a loss of $60.6 million in 2004. The games arm saw a significant rise in revs — up 47% — due in large part to the success of its “World of Warcraft” title.

Viv U’s stake in NBC Universal contributed $90.9 million to its coffers.

The group’s telcos underpinned Viv U’s profit with French mobile phone subsid SFR Cegetel reporting a 2% rise in earnings to $716 million and Maroc Telecom increasing earnings by 15% to $227 million.

Net debt fell from $5.9 million in the first quarter of 2004 to $5.3 million in the first quarter of this year.

Viv U’s sunny results follow on the heels of a 7% increase in revs for the first quarter. At the end of April, the Gallic group said that revs for the first quarter had risen to $6.1 billion.

The group said Thursday that its first-quarter results confirmed its profit forecast for 2005 of at least $1.8 billion, a rise of 37% over 2004.