VivendiUniversal (VU) has sold the historic Babelsberg Studios to a group of Germaninvestors led by Carl Woebcken, managing director of Berlin Animation Film, andChristoph Fisser, managing director of the Munich studio facility StudioAtelierbetriebe Schwabing (SAS).

VU sold the studios for the symbolic price of Euros 1. TheWoebcken-Fisser group will assume Euros 18m of the studio's debt.

The sale marks the latest stage in VU's retreatfrom the ambitions of its former chief executive Jean-Marie Messier.

A statement from VU stressed that projects lined up to shootat the studios - such as Mission: Impossible 3 and Aeon Fluxwhich both start shooting in August - will not be affected by the change inshareholding.

VU added that in the long term, "the buyers intend todevelop the studio activities in the field of television production."

VU's decision to accept the bid from the Woebcken-Fissergroup came as something of a surprise since they had kept their identitiesunder wraps during the weeks of negotiations.

The signs had been that Studio Hamburg would be thesuccessful bidder until it suddenly withdrew from negotiations a week ago,leaving the management buyout option from Studio Babelsberg Motion Pictures'Thierry Potok seemingly as the only alternative.

In an initial reaction to the news, Brandenburg's EconomicsMinister Ulrich Junghanns commented: "We take note of the decision. Wewill treat the new bidder impartially and will see what he does now. Everybodyknows what expectations the regional government connects with thestudios."

Before becoming the co-managing director of Berlin AnimationFilm (BAF), Carl Woebcken served as CFO for the animation specialist TVLoonland. BAF's production slate currently consists of seven animation TVseries - including Sherm! and MP4orce - and the 3D-computergenerated feature film Happily N'Ever After.

The SAS studios were established in 1995 on the former armybarracks in the Schwabing district of Munich where Kinowelt used to have itsheadquarters. The productions handled by the facility include Constantin Film'sSAT.1 TV movie Vera Bruehne.