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Jean-René Fourtou has a tough job convincing European regulators that Universal Music’s purchase of EMI’s record labels will not strangle competition, but he faces an even harder task in engineering a coherent strategy for Universal’s parent Vivendi.
Mr Fourtou, Vivendi’s chairman, took effective control of the French telecoms and media group last month after the abrupt departure of Jean-Bernard Lévy, chief executive.
The two men disagreed over a restructuring plan. Vivendi is under fire because its market capitalisation is far below the probable value of its assets: ranging from Universal and Canal Plus, a French pay-TV group, to telecoms companies in France, Morocco and Brazil.
According to industry sources, Vivendi is sounding out potential buyers for its 61 per cent stake in Activision Blizzard, a computer games company, as a possible way to “unlock value” for investors.
However, a person close to the company says: “It’s not obvious they can sell it. Activision is big.”
Time Warner and Microsoft have been linked, but the $8.2bn value of Vivendi’s stake is probably prohibitive.
Other possibilities include a private equity sale, a management buyout or share sales to investment funds and in the market.
Mr Lévy’s departure also makes it feasible that Mr Fourtou could try to sell SFR, a struggling French telecoms business that provides much of Vivendi’s profit. Mr Lévy was protective of the business, but Mr Fourtou is less attached.