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One of the most intriguing players to watch at MipTV will be France’s own Vivendi. The conglom has had a busy year assembling new pieces in its disparate portfolio to become a bigger force in the booming global market for TV, film and digital content.

Vivendi last year helped orchestrate the merger of Euro TV heavyweights Banijay Group and Zodiak, emerging with a 26.2% stake in the combined venture.

At the Studiocanal production arm of Vivendi’s pay TV group Canal Plus, veteran producer Rola Bauer was tapped in January to oversee a stepped-up effort to sell shows and strike co-productions in the U.S. market. Bauer’s appointment came a week after Vivendi’s wholly owned Universal Music Group hired two seasoned producers, David Blackman and Scott Landis, to spearhead development of film, TV and theatrical projects.

The Banijay-Zodiak deal brings together production entities in France, Denmark, Italy, Spain, Scandinavia, Australia and New Zealand as well as the U.S., with Bunim/Murray Prods. and Stephen David Entertainment. Shows produced under the Banijay banner include the racy historical drama “Versailles,” which made a splash in the U.K. and France last year, “The Secret Life of Four-Year-Olds,” “Beat Your Host,” “Keeping up With the Kardashians” and “Wife Swap.”

Vivendi’s stake in Banijay comes as Studiocanal spearheaded a string of smaller Euro production company acquisitions, including Bauer’s Tandem in Germany, RED Production Co. in the U.K. and SAM Prods. in Scandinavia.

Also last summer, Vivendi bought DailyMotion, the French-based YouTube rival, with a plan to turn it into a platform for high-end original content.

These moves come after Vivendi’s corporate chieftains decided in 2012 that the company needed to focus on media and content creation. The conglom sold off its far-flung telco, cable and Internet assets as well as 85% of its interest in videogame giant ActivisionBlizzard. The new mandate is content, content, content, according to Studiocanal CEO Didier Lupfer.

“With Studiocanal’s leverage with our cousins on the music side, Universal Music Group … we can do a lot of things,” Lupfer says.

As an example, Lupfer says UMG and Studiocanal are working on multiple projects rooted in the music arena, including the Ron Howard-directed “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week” documentary.
The brick-by-brick approach is a far cry from Vivendi’s previous effort to become a major global player in TV and film.

In 2000 Vivendi, then known as a water and utility company, came crashing into Hollywood with its acquisition of Universal Studios and then-parent Seagram Co. Fate was not kind to that merger of businesses and cultures. Vivendi wound up selling out to then-NBC parent General Electric in 2004.

This time around, Vivendi and its subsidiaries are focused on playing to their strengths in Europe. The dramatic growth of TV and digital platforms during the past decade makes that more attractive than it was 15-plus years ago. Lupfer cites Studiocanal’s success with last year’s live-action “Paddington” film as a model.

“What we want is to create and control big IPs, like ‘Paddington,’ based on European culture, German, Swedish, U.K. icons with big potential. Europe’s IP potential — culturally, historically — may be even greater than in the U.S.,” Lupfer says. “There is room for a company like Studiocanal in Europe. Not a competitor of U.S. (majors), we want to avoid that. (But) there’s a good place in Europe to create that kind of content that is close to the European audience.”

The impact of this shift can be seen on the airwaves of Canal Plus. The flagship channel of the premium cable group used to be all about sports and movies. But that changed during the past decade when Canal Plus started developing original TV shows, such as crime thriller series “Spiral.” It was also the first French TV company to commission English-language series, starting in 2011 with the Tom Fontana-produced costumer “Borgia.” When rumors of Netflix’s launch in France first surfaced, Canal Plus steadily increased its budget for original series.

The imperative to rev up Vivendi’s content engine was spelled out in a memo last fall from chairman Vincent Bollore. He is Vivendi’s single-largest shareholder, and has been shaking things up at Canal Plus and the parent company. For one, sources say, Bollore is pushing for Canal Plus to end its free-to-air service and become a wholly pay TV service a la HBO.

“In order for our investments to be profitable we must fast-track the distribution of our content abroad,” Bollore wrote in a September memo to Canal Plus employees. “Thanks to OTT, Canal Plus programs can be watched simultaneously abroad. We must target English- and Spanish-language markets.”

The marching orders are clear, and leaders of the various Vivendi-backed production entities have plenty of work to do on the Palais this year.