French media giant Vivendi Universal has informed analysts at a behind-closed-doors briefing that it is seeking to increase its 43% stake in Barry Diller's USA Networks to 63% by acquiring a 20% shareholding from John Malone's Liberty Media.
As part of the deal, Vivendi would be looking to get majority control also of Multithematiques. In return, Vivendi chairman and CEO Jean-Marie Messier has been quoted as saying he would be prepared to relinquish at least part of his 23% stake in UK satellite broadcaster BSkyB to Malone.
Such a manoeuvre, if indeed true, would certainly solve several corporate headaches for the various media titans involved. For Messier, it allows him to gain majority control of the USA cable TV empire (which includes USA Films, the co-financer of Traffic) and perhaps involve Diller in the running of Vivendi Universal - or at the very least indulge Diller's acquisition ambitions. It also aligns Malone's interests even more with Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp is one of the other major shareholders in BSkyB, following their recent pooling of global cable and satellite TV interests. Marshalling an exit from the UK satellite TV business would get Messier out of the Murdoch's hair - and free their respective conglomerates to go head-to-head in such battle arenas as Italian TV. Messier certainly has a vested interesting in doing such a deal: the European Commission has insisted the disposal of Vivendi's BSkyB stake by October 2002 as one of the conditions for approving its merger with Canal Plus and Universal Studios.