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Vivendi Ups Stake, Voting Rights in French Vidgame Company Ubisoft

PARIS — Following its hostile takeover of Gameloft, which sparked a faceoff with the video-game company’s owners, Vivendi is upping its stake in Ubisoft, the bigger sister company to Gameloft that produced “Assassin’s Creed” and “Splinter Cell.”

Under the leadership of billionaire Vincent Bolloré, Vivendi has increased its stake in Ubisoft by 2.7% to 22.8% and now holds 20% of the voting rights.

In its declaration to the AMF, the French securities regulator, Vivendi said it was not “considering the launch of a public tender on Ubisoft,” nor was it “considering acquiring control of the company.” Vivendi added that it was “hoping to build a fruitful cooperation with Ubisoft.”

Vivendi’s statement that it doesn’t intend to make a bid for Ubisoft means that, even if it changes its mind, it won’t be permitted to make such a bid for six months. However, it would be obligated to make a buyout offer if it held more than 30% of the company’s shares.

Vivendi also told the AFM that it was hoping to gain board representation at Ubisoft. However, the Guillemot brothers, who founded Ubisoft in 1986 and now collectively own about 9% of the company and 16% of its voting rights, are reportedly vehemently opposed to Bolloré’s presence on the board.

Back in March, Yves Guillemot even traveled to Canada seeking potential investors for Ubisoft, in order to have stronger control over the capital, according to local reports.

“Bolloré would need more than 50% of the voting rights to be guaranteed board representation, and it’s unsure whether he’ll succeed. We’ve seen how his attempt to gain a seat on the board of the British group Aegis failed due to his opposition with its owners and in spite of of the fact that he held a 29.1 % stake,” said Thomas Alzuyeta, a financial analyst at Gilbert Dupont.

“Considering the heavy price tag of Ubisoft — estimated at 3.7 billion euros [$4.1 billion] — and the risk associated, Vivendi’s investment in the vidgame company lacks much rational business-wise, and we don’t think Vivendi should spend the bulk of its 6-billion-euro war chest for the acquisition of Ubisoft,” said Alzuyeta.

In contrast, Gameloft, which Vivendi now owns, is highly promising. “Today, mobile games bring many more capitalization perspectives than console games, as we’ve just seen with Nintendo’s mobile Pokemon game,” Alzuyeta noted.

Ubisoft remains an attractive asset for Vivendi because of its international profile and top-notch franchises, such as “Assassin’s Creed,” which spurred a big-screen adaptation directed by Justin Kurzel and starring Marion Cotillard and Michael Fassbender (pictured above).

Acquisition by Vivendi would certainly limit Ubisoft to working with Vivendi-owned Studiocanal for financing, distribution and international sales rather than U.S. companies such as Fox, New Regency, Warner and Columbia, and with Dailymotion rather than YouTube, argued Alzuyeta.

The moves into Gameloft and Ubisoft come less than a year after the appointment of Didier Lupfer — formerly head of development and production at Ubisoft Motion Pictures — as VP of Studiocanal.

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