Vivendi may flip NBC Universal

Conglom may sell to buy Vodafone's stake in telco SFR

A top Vivendi exec called the French conglom’s 20% stake in NBC Universal “nonstrategic” and suggested it could be sold to buy Vodafone’s stake in French telco SFR.

Vivendi owns 56% of SFR, and chief financial officer Jacques Espinasse said the company would like to buy out mobile phone giant Vodafone’s 44% stake if the telco is willing to sell.

Vodafone’s willingness to deal could spur Vivendi to exit its NBC U stake sooner rather than later.

“It is not likely that we will be a long-term shareholder in the company, even though our relationship is excellent,” Espinasse told Daily Variety after a presentation to Wall Street investors hosted by Credit Suisse First Boston.

Vivendi can exit its stake beginning in January, when it can sell the first $3 billion of its holdings. Vivendi can then sell stock worth $4 billion in both 2008 and 2009. GE can either write a check to acquire the 20% of NBC U it doesn’t own or force an IPO for Vivendi’s stake.

If Vivendi doesn’t sell, GE holds an option to buy out its stake in May 2010.

Either way, Espinasse said Vivendi, which owns Universal Music Group, Canal Plus and Vivendi Games, won’t be a shareholder in NBC U in five years.

“It’s not a core business, because we are not in the driver’s seat and we never will be,” he said.