Vivendi Chairman Vincent Bollore emerged victorious at the French media giant’s annual meeting, seeing off a shareholder rebellion and winning a battle over double voting rights that will allow him to move forward with his vision of turning Vivendi into a global player. The billionaire businessman, who has tightened his grip over Vivendi in recent weeks by nearly tripling his stake in the company to 14.5% in the space of less than two months, was presiding over his first annual meeting as chairman. A minority group of activist shareholders failed in their attempts to overrule a French law giving long-term shareholders like Bollore double voting rights. By consolidating, and indeed increasing, his voting control, Bollore is now poised to move forward with his ambitious plans for the company. Comparing Vivendi to the likes of Facebook and Google, Bollore was bullish about the company’s long-term prospects while also asking for patience.
“Clearly, I strongly believe that Vivendi can develop itself a lot. Why would I invest 4 billion euros in a company in which I don’t believe?” said Bollore, going on to advise that finding the right acquisition targets would take time. “None of the owners of media assets are going to sell us great businesses for less than their market value. So it’s up to us to pay the right, fair price, then create value.”
Speculation has been rife for some time as to what exactly Vivendi will spend the billions it has at its disposal following a concerted Bollore-orchestrated strategy of selling off what he deemed as non-core assets such as vidgame publisher Activision Blizzard, Maroc Telecom and French telco SFR. What is left is French pay TV group Canal + as well as Universal Music Group, the world’s largest music group.
Potential rumoured targets have included Rupert Murdoch’s stake in Sky; Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset; French media group Lagardere and even Lionsgate. Bollore moved to quell the game of chinese whispers making its way around the markets. The company has denied recently that it was interested in either Sky or Lagardere although Bollore did confirm that Dailymotion, the Internet-video service Vivendi agreed to acquire from Orange SA this month, would not be the company’s only acquisition this year.
“Selling assets was easy during this time of abundant cash on the market, but phase two – redeploying Vivendi into content production, distribution and data gathering – is more complicated,” Bollore said. “We will look at scenarios for acquisitions during a May 12 strategic meeting.”
Bollore will be joined at that meeting by Franco-Tunisian media mogul Tarak Ben Ammar and Havas Media Group France chief exec Dominique Delport, both of whom were confirmed today my overwhelming majorities to the Vivendi supervisory board. Both Ben Ammar and Delport, seen as Bollore allies, will be instrumental in the shape of the company moving forward.
Ben Ammar is a shareholder and founding board member of the Weinstein Co., owner of Italo distributor Eagle Pictures, as well as a board member of Telecom Italia and Italian investment bank Mediobanca, in which Bollore is a shareholder. Dominique Delport is global MD of Bollore-owned advertising group Havas Media Group as well as chiarman of the Havas Media Group in France and the UK.
All eyes will now turn to that meeting on May 12, ironically the day before the launch of the Cannes Film Festival, for further clues in what signs will emerge from the company that has already created a genuine pan-European film studio in its film unit Studio Canal.