Today's decision by the European Commission (EC) to investigate the takeover of Italian digital TV platform Stream may help French facilities group Vivendi negotiate the terms on which it would cease hostilities with News Corp and join Platco.
While expressing growing enthusiasm for Platco, a new holding company that would harness News Corp's satellite broadcast interests, Vivendi boss Jean-Marie Messier said this week that he wouldn't join the network unless Stream was left out.
The EC said that it will begin a one month review of plans by Telecom Italia SpA and News Television Ltd, indirectly controlled by News Corp, to take joint control of Stream (Screendaily, April 19). Parties were notified on May 25 and the Commission will issue its preliminary findings by June 29.
In an interview with French paper Le Figaro, Messier said: "Vivendi cannot imagine finding itself an indirect shareholder of a Telepiu competitor." Vivendi owns 49% of Canal Plus, the European broadcast empire which owns over 90% of Italy's leading pay-TV operator Telepiu. News Corp and Telecom Italia control a majority stake in its younger and smaller rival Stream.
April's takeover at Stream occurred in stormy circumstances after Cecchi Gori Communications and SDS, a consortium of football clubs, were both pushed out. News Corp and Telecom Italia bought out Cecchi Gori and SDS for $185m and increased their stakes from 35% to 50% each, after an Italian court ruled that a capital increase was legal.
Since News Corp boss Rupert Murdoch relaunched the call for Vivendi to join Platco the two companies appear to have settled a number of other issues, including whether Messier would get a seat on Platco's board and if Canal Plus is to be rolled into the new company.
Negotiations started after Vivendi built up an uncomfortably large 24.5% stake in News Corp's UK broadcast goldmine BSkyB. The purchase provoked talk of a takeover or merger between BSkyB and Canal Plus. There are now no plans to merge the two pay-TV giants or for Canal Plus to join Platco. But, according to reports, Vivendi could expect to swap its 24.5% of BSkyB for 10%-12% of Platco.
Although bringing Vivendi into Platco can be seen as a defensive move by News Corp, it also opens up the possibility of News Corp accessing Vivazzi, the ambitious "multi-access-portal" being built by Vivendi and mobile phone goliath Vodafone-Airtouch-Mannesman (Screendaily, Feb 1).
In recent weeks News Corp made it clear that it is now prepared to bring technology development operation News Digital Systems and listings service TV Guide International into the mixture alongside Star TV, Sky Latin America, Foxtel in Australia, BSkyB and Stream.