In a move that potentially clears the way towards clearance of the Vivendi-Canal Plus merger, Vivendi appears to be ready to keep more assets within the part of Canal Plus that will retain a separate identity.
Vivendi boss Jean-Marie Messier is understood to have given control of the French subscriber base to Canal Plus Programmes, the unit which holds the French pay-TV broadcast licence and which will be 49% owned by Vivendi Universal.
Critics of the merger - which is part of the takeover of Seagram and its music and film subsidiary Universal - had accused Vivendi of creating an empty shell in its attempt to comply with French law which prevents majority control of a broadcaster.
The Conseil Superieur de l'Audiovisuel (CSA), which regulates the broadcast sector in France, had expressed concerns that Canal Plus Programmes would bear little resemblance to the Canal Plus which earlier this year renewed its licence. It is concerned that Canal Plus Programmes would be a transmission vehicle with little editorial or management control and whose chief asset would belong to another company, Vivendi Universal. French culture minister Catherine Tasca is also known to have expressed similar concerns and described the regulated businesses as "extremely thin."
Messier is understood to have personally negotiated the compromise with CSA chief Herve Bourges, and to have trodden a careful line in order not to reduce the value of the larger takeover. Although the CSA has repeatedly denied newspaper speculation that it was about to strip Canal Plus of its French licence and said that it would not publish its findings before the middle of August, there are now renewed suggestions that it will be able to clear the deal this week.
Approval by the French authorities would go some way to reassuring the investment markets which have continued to worry about the creation of Vivendi Universal and may buy it some favour in Brussels. The firms submitted the merger plans to the European Commission for competition approval last week. The Commission has until Aug 21 to conduct a preliminary one-month review after which it will either decide there is no case to answer or launch a full four-month investigation.