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Tencent to Increase Universal Music Group Stake to 20%

Universal Music Group in Santa Monica,
Michael Buckner for Variety

French media conglomerate Vivendi said on Friday that a consortium led by China’s Tencent will exercise its option to acquire a further 10% stake in Universal Music Group, raising the consortium’s holding to 20%.

A Tencent-led consortium completed its deal to buy 10% of UMG in March this year. It retained an option running until January 2021 to double its stake, through a second purchase on the same valuation. The Tencent deals put a floor valuation of EUR30 billion ($36.9 billion) on UMG.

In a press statement the French company said: “Vivendi has enjoyed the presence of Tencent and its co-investors at UMG’s share capital since March and is very happy the Consortium has decided to exercise its option. They will enable UMG to further develop its activities in Asia.”

Vivendi says it plans to sell other minority stakes in UMG and to pursue an IPO of the unit by 2022 at the latest. “The cash generated by these transactions may be used by Vivendi to reduce its financial debt and to finance share buybacks and acquisitions,” it added.

In a subsequent regulatory filing, Tencent also confirmed the move.

“The consortium comprises the same members as that for the initial 10% investment in UMG, including Tencent Music Entertainment Group and other financial co-investors,” Tencent said. “The transaction is expected to close in the first half of 2021.”

The March deal was complemented by a separate agreement, allowing Tencent Music to acquire a minority stake in the UMG subsidiary owning its Greater China operations.

Regulatory approval for the latest deal would normally be a formality given that it represents a stake increase, not a new acquisition, and that regulators would have been aware of the option at the time they green-lighted the March deal.

However, the activities of tech companies have this year become part of the Cold War narrative between the U.S. under President Donald Trump and hardline Chinese leader Xi Jinping. The U.S. has sought to rein in Chinese hardware suppliers Huawei and GTE and service companies including Bytedance’s TikTok and Tencent’s WeChat.

Moreover, in recent months competition and technology regulators across the planet have taken a much harder line on global tech giants. In China, the government has recently begun to use its State Administration of Market Regulation to limit the power and influence of its own internet giants for the first time. In the past few years, China has also used foreign currency controls to rein in large overseas purchases by Chinese firms.

And only last week, the same State Administration of Market Regulation fined a trio of Chinese companies, including a different Tencent offshoot, for not seeking its prior permission before deal-making.

That pressure, however, is also counterbalanced by Beijing’s desire to see Chinese companies wield cultural and media influence around the globe in similar fashion to U.S. media conglomerates.

Tencent, which already owns significant stakes in many of the world’s leading games companies, has 9.1% of music streaming leader Spotify, and boasts over a billion users for its WeChat super app, is well positioned to take on that mantle as China’s international tech champion.