Vivendi Universal was forced into retreat again today when chairman and chief executive Jean-Rene Fourtou had to admit that the sale of Italian pay-TV operation Telepiu to News Corp had been delayed.

Only yesterday, as part of a major strategy announcement, Fourtou had proclaimed the sale for Euros1bn, a price already well below the Euros1.5bn the two groups had provisionally agreed earlier this year.

Late on Wednesday, News Corp issued a statement to the Australian Stock Exchange saying that no definitive agreement had been signed. "News Corporation is continuing to negotiate and believes it is close to a definitive agreement, the terms of which will be based upon a signed letter of intent, to acquire the Telepiu pay-TV platform from Vivendi Universal."

While the latest delay could be no more than a negotiating tactic by News Corp boss Rupert Murdoch, it may also reflect the difficulties News Corp is having finding partners willing to invest in a group combining the two loss making platforms Telepiu and News Corp's own Stream.

Either way, it was a humiliating climbdown for Fourtou, who yesterday cheerfully admitted he was not an entertainment industry insider. The admission that he did not actually have a deal was made to the National Assembly, the lower house of the French parliament, where he was having to explain how a jewel in France's corporate firmament had become quite so tarnished.