ROME — Silvio Berlusconi on Monday confirmed that talks are under way between his Mediaset group and French media giant Vivendi to forge an alliance in content creation but denied more far-ranging discussions, downplaying speculation in the Italian press about a possible outright purchase by Vivendi of his entire TV empire.
“Vivendi is very interested in Italy,” Berlusconi told Italian radio RTL 102.5. “I’ve been friends with Bollore for years, and he has shown interest in some of the things we do – absolutely not an interest [in acquiring] Mediaset – but in our ability to make products for TV, in various formats. Vivendi has a vision for the future of Europe, and it is possible we shall find means to collaborate,” the former Italian prime minister went on to say.
Vivendi chairman Vincent Bollore is clearly eying Italy as a key plank of his expansion plan. He recently raised Vivendi’s stake in Italian telco Telecom Italia to 24.9%, forcing its Italian CEO Marco Patuano to resign on Monday. The Paris-based conglomerate, which is the parent company of European film-TV group StudioCanal, comprising the Canal Plus paybox, and Universal Music Group, is also in talks to acquire a stake in leading Italian film and TV production company Cattleya.
Mediaset, which is Italy’s top free-to-air player with a substantial presence in Spain, operates Mediaset Premium, Italy’s struggling second paybox after Murdoch-owned Sky.
Vivendi and Mediaset have reportedly been discussing a far-ranging alliance under which Vivendi would buy Mediaset Premium, which is operating at a loss, and reach a strategic alliance that would create an integrated pan-European pay-TV platform and content production giant that would compete with Sky and Netflix in Europe. There has also been speculation in the Italian press that Berlusconi was looking to sell off Mediaset entirely to Vivendi. Vivendi has made no mystery of its “willingness to invest in Southern Europe,” as it stated in its February 18 earnings report that revealed a $7 billion cash pile, at least up until Dec. 31.
But insiders say there are several hurdles, one being Mediaset’s asking price for its pay-TV unit and also questions about what the rationale would be for Vivendi to buy a money-losing operation especially when there is no room in Italy, or even across Europe, for two competing pay-TV players.