Barry Diller has resignedfrom his interim role as co-chief executive officer of Vivendi UniversalEntertainment (VUE) as Vivendi Universal steps up efforts to sell theentertainment division and slash debts of more than $13bn.
Under the leadership ofchairman Jean-Rene Fourtou, who takes over as full chief executive officer,Vivendi Universal is considering an offer for its studios, theme parks andmusic division by former oilman Marvin Davis.
While MGM and Viacom arealso said to be interested in buying all or part of the entertainment assets,Diller's decision to step down is widely regarded as the precursor to a bid ofhis own.
Free of any conflict ofinterests, the former Fox chief is understood to be waiting for the rightopportunity. He recently told reporters that he would be interested in biddingfor a portion of VUE as long as he did not have to serve as chief executive.
However he played down hisacquisitive interests today, saying in a statement: "My executive role wasnever intended to be permanent."
'"ow that Vivendi Universalhas begun a formal process in reviewing options for its entertainment assets,it is appropriate to step aside from any direct management responsibility."
Diller will remain chiefexecutive officer of USA Interactive, which is regarded as his chief priority.USA has a 5.4% stake and preferred stock in VUE, while Diller personally owns1.5% of VUE.
Diller has also said thatany partnership dissolution between Vivendi Universal and USA Interactive willentitle him to billions in tax payments. The matter is subject to ongoingnegotiation with Vivendi Universal, which disputes the claim.
Shares of USA Interactivefell $2.28 to $24.21 in afternoon trading on Wall Street, while Vivendi's USshares rose 29 cents to $15.09.
Last year Vivendi Universalslashed its debt by roughly two-thirds to $13bn through rapid sale of variousconcerns. Fourtou wants to use an entertainment assets sale to clear another$7.4bn and return the ailing conglomerate to safe ground.