French media and telcos giant Vivendi has received a binding $4.4 billion offer from Altice for its 20% stake in French cable co. Numericable-SFR. Vivendi retained the 20% stake following a deal last April with Altice founder Patrick Drahi to sell him its phone unit SFR for $23 billion and enable him to merge it with his cable company Numericable. The $45 a share offer price for the stake is nearly 20% lower than Numericable-SFR’s closing share price on Tuesday of $56.
Vivendi’s board will meet on Feb. 27 to decide on the next steps. If the deal goes through, it will give Vivendi chairman Vincent Bollore an even larger war chest to play with as he continues to redefine the French powerhouse as Europe’s most powerful media player. Vivendi owns the Canal Plus cable network and European film mini-major Studio Canal.
Already flush with cash from the sales of its stakes in telcos SFR in France and Maroc Telecom in Morocco, as well as video game publisher Activision Blizzard, Vivendi’s share price has risen more than 30% since September 2012.
That was when Bollore first made public his intention to acquire a 5% stake in Vivendi, at the time an unwieldy combination of cable, film, telco, music and video game operations. Under Bollore, Vivendi has streamlined to focus on creating synergies among Canal Plus, Studio Canal and Universal Music Group, the music and media company that Vivendi also owns.
Deadline exclusive revealed during the Berlin Film Festival that StudioCanal was in advanced
discussions with Sebastien Raybaud’s Anton Capital Entertainment to re-up its slate financing in a deal that could exceed the € 150 million ($194 million) pact originally agreed in 2011. That three-year deal, which was itself extended in 2012 to continue until the beginning of 2016, was the first of its kind in Europe and has allowed StudioCanal to emerge as Europe’s dominant film studio, and a genuine global film player, with distribution in the UK, France, Germany, Australia and New Zealand.
Studio Canal has enjoyed its most successful year to date, under the leadership of CEO Olivier Courson, with the likes of Liam Neeson-starrer Non-Stop, The Imitation Game, Shaun The Sheep and, most spectacularly, Paddington. The latter film, based on Michael Bond’s much-loved book series and produced by Harry Potter producer David Heyman, was StudioCanal’s most ambitious to date with a budget of $55 million. StudioCanal fully financed the film, which has been a bona fide hit worldwide with grosses to date in excess of $200 million, setting up a lucrative family friendly franchise for the company.
Rumors have been growing in recent months that Bollore, poised to become the most powerful exec in Europe’s shifting media landscape, has been eyeing potential acquisition opportunities. Possible targets include Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset in Italy, where the billionaire Bollore already has significant business interests, as well as even more tantalisingly Rupert Murdoch’s 39% stake in Sky Europe.
Thwarted in his initial bid to acquire Time Warner, the visionary Murdoch is thought to be considering funding a new approach by selling off his stake in Sky, worth between $4-5 billion.
Though largely speculation at this point, it underscores the extent to which Europe’s media landscape is set to undergo seismic shifts in 2015. Deep pocketed telcos such as BT and Telefonica, not to mention the likes of John Malone’s Discovery, Netflix and Amazon, are challenging the more traditional players in the latest surge of consolidation and multi-play offerings to viewers.