And then there were four.After weeks of speculation and strategic manoeuvring that have shed little ifany light on the prospects for Vivendi Universal's entertainment assets,MGM chairman and chief executive officer Alex Yemenidjian said yesterday thatthe company had withdrawn from the sale.

The dramatic announcementremoves arguably the most aggressive suitor from the process and leaves JohnMalone's Liberty Media, Viacom, NBC and a consortium led by EdgarBronfman Jr in the running.

Weeks ago MGM promised toraise its offer in exchange for more financial data about the entertainmentassets, namely Universal film and television studios, USA Network and SCI-FI Channelcable networks and the theme parks.

After a bout of publicjousting between the two companies, MGM received its wish and raised its offerfrom $11.2m to $11.5bn all-cash.

However in recent days ithas emerged that Vivendi chairman Jean-Rene Fourtou is privately dissatisfiedwith all the offers and considers $13bn-$14bn a more appropriate asking price.

That clearly did not flywith MGM, who have made it clear that both the $11.5bn offer and its interestin the sale are now a thing of the past.

"The VUE assets areattractive and would fit well with MGM," Yemenidjian said in a statementon Tuesday (29). "Unfortunately, meeting the seller's current priceexpectation would not be consistent with our valuation of the assets."

He continued: "MGM isa disciplined buyer and we will not pursue strategic opportunities, howeverattractive, unless we can do so on a basis that makes sense for ourshareholders. We continue to have a high regard for Vivendi and itsmanagement."

Despite the announcement itis by no means certain that MGM has completely turned its back on a processwhose Byzantine plot twists have led to plenty of exasperation all round.

"It's a totalcircus. The whole thing is dysfunctional," one chief executive involvedin the process told the New York Times under strict anonymity last week.

"They are not evenrunning an auction any more. Don't let them fool you: there is noprocess."

As previously reported(Screendaily, Jul 25) Comcast is said to have expressed a "preliminary,but genuine" interest in the auction process.

Final bids are expected bymid-August, when the conglomerate will either choose the winner or opt for aninitial public offering.