The European Commission's competition division has given its blessing to the establishment of Vizzavi, the multi-platform Internet portal launched last month by Vivendi and mobile phone group Vodafone Airtouch. However, approval came with conditions.
The success of the portal is key to the proposed merger between Canal Plus, Vivendi and Seagram being able to exploit its content in different media. Indeed, Vivendi chief Jean-Marie Messier has said that he wants to see the 300m compact discs that Universal Music currently sells annually across Europe to now come with a Vizzavi Internet connection that would reach the combined companies' 80m continental subscribers.
The EC said that regulatory clearance was made possible after the companies submitted commitments to ensure that rival Internet portals would have equal access to the parent companies' set-top boxes and mobile handsets.
"In order to address the competitive concerns identified the parties provided undertakings to ensure that the default portal could be changed should the customer so wish," said the EC. "The undertakings will allow consumers to access third party portals, to change the default portal themselves, or to authorise a third party portal operator to change the default setting for them."
"The decision ensures that the current competitive model of Internet services -- where consumers can choose their content provider independently of their access provider -- is carried over into the developing markets of Internet provision via mobile phones and televisions," continued the EC.
The ruling that could have some bearing on AOL's merger with Time Warner, a deal that has raised similar concerns over equal on-line access from both consumer lobby groups and industrial rivals such as Walt Disney as it tries to pass muster with regulatory watchdogs on both sides of the Atlantic. It is now clear that one of Brussels' major worries about the coming era of digital distribution is that users should not be locked into the pages of any one service-provider, even though this is clearly one of the benefits of creating vertically integrated giants spanning both content and media platforms.
Vizzavi's partners put the main merger proposals to the EC (which has claimed sole jurisdiction over competition aspects of the deal) earlier this week amid a blast of self-confident bluster that suggested there was no possible regulatory problem. The French broadcast regulator, the CSA, however said it was not going to hurry with its probe and would not pronounce on media ownership and plurality issues before August 15.