Media giant Vivendi Universal ended months of speculation yesterday by confirming that it was bowing out of the US entertainment industry and selling-off subsidiary Universal Entertainment Networks.
Indicating that a post-restructure Vivendi would focus on telecoms and French television, Vivendi Universal chief executive Jean-Marie Fourtou told shareholders the company was talking to a number of parties with a view to jettisoning Universal Entertainment Networks "in its entirety" or in parts.
However he warned the sale, part of his wider plan to restructure Vivendi - which is burdened with net debt of $13.5bn - could take over a year longer.
"2003 will be a year of transition," he said, "It will be in the autumn of 2004 that the market will be able to appreciate the true value of the group."
Fighting-off a late challenge by disgruntled investors looking to cancel yesterday's annual general meeting, the Vivendi chief executive said it was "illusory" to believe the company could run the US group - which contains Universal Studios, several theme parks and cable TV businesses - from its headquarters in Paris.
Mr Fourtou said the subsidiary would be sold for cash or as part of share-backed deal.
Just days prior to Monday's shareholder meeting, Vivendi began sending information packs to bidders interested in VUE, formed last year after Vivendi's $13.7bn acquisition of Barry Diller's USA Networks.
However any sale is likely to be complicated by a number of pending lawsuits, including one from Mr Diller.
He described Canal Plus "the most difficult segment of the group." But he said that considerable progress had been made and indicated that former disposal target StudioCanal would be kept. "We are trying to make the most of the catalogue and make the company profitable again," he said.
He also indicated that he would step down once the restructuring process had been finalised and that Vivendi would have a new management team in place by the end of 2004.
However news about the sale of the groups music arm, Universal Music failed to appear yesterday after Mr Fourtou said no firm offers had been received. Analysts and shareholders had been expecting news of a reported $6bn bid by Apple Computers for the business.
But Mr Fourtou told shareholders that he would sell the company's games unit, Vivendi Universal Games and that he believed the company could better this year's existing target of selling Euros7bn in assets.