Although the company is set to complete its deal to sell its US entertainment assets to NBC in the next few days, some things are still business as usual at Vivendi Universal.

The company sponsored a special round table at the Marrakech Film Festival on Monday October 6 to discuss issues ranging from how to reinvigorate Morocco's depressed box-office to piracy.

Flying journalists and panellists to the festival on Sunday, Vivendi treated its guests to an open air showing of The Dog, The General And The Birds - an animated film pre-bought by Vivendi division Canal Plus - as well as a dinner at one of the city's finest restaurants.

Why this sort of conference now' Especially when Vivendi is about ready to divest of most of its entertainment interests.

Sylvie Forbin, director of European affairs for Vivendi told that the company wanted to do more than just act as a sleeping partner to the festival. Vivendi is also closely tied to Morocco thanks to its stake in Maroc Telecom.

Despite the sell-off of VUE, Forbin noted that Vivendi is not pulling out of the entertainment business entirely and is still very concerned about issues like piracy.

The first subject in the debates: what to do reinvigorate Moroccan cinema going. In the 1980s, Morocco sold about 40-50 million movie tickets per year in 257 theatres spread across the country. Currently, the annual average has dropped to less than 10 million tickets in only 135 theatres.

Hamid Marrakchi, a local exhibitor, strongly blamed piracy for the drop in attendance. He noted that films are available for sale or rental in the local souks well before their official release dates. "We need laws," he insisted.

Claude Eric Poiroux of Europa Cinemas - who heads Euromed Audiovisual which aids exhibitors and distributors in North Africa and the Near East - spoke of the group's efforts to improve the situation by providing local aid for the release of films. Euromed is set to receive additional funds from the EU next year.

Further voices called for the modernisation of theatres and for simultaneous releases of French films in France and in Morocco.

A panel on piracy later in the day specifically addressed the issue.

Panellist Michel Schmidt, associate director at StudioCanal, got a surprise when a filmmaker and distributor from Algeria explained the benefits of piracy in his home country.

Because Algeria is so cut off from the rest of the world, he said, the fact that Algerians are able to receive 200 pirated TV channels including Canal Plus has given them a window onto the outside world.

While his figures would be difficult to verify, the speaker said seven million Algerians watch Canal Plus for free. He added that at least it had done some good for France as sales of Nescafe had skyrocketed in the country thanks to adverts that air on the channel.