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Vivendi's veto power complicates possible GE-Comcast deal for NBC Universal

October 12, 2009 |  9:15 am

JeanBernardLevy The influence of Vivendi over the future of NBC Universal is about more than whether it decides to exercise an option to force General Electric to buy its 20% stake in the movie and television conglomerate.

In a little-noticed provision of the French company's deal with GE, it also has veto power over any change in control over NBC Universal.

On paper, it's feasible that GE could complete the deal under discussion with Comcast Corp., in which the cable operator would get 51% of NBC Universal in exchange for billions of cash and its cable channels, without Vivendi. GE would simply end up with a 29% stake in the new NBC Universal, instead of the 49% envisioned in a deal where Vivendi sells its stake.

But if Vivendi doesn't approve of the deal because it believes it would lessen the value of its 20%, it won't happen.

That's one of many complicated issues at stake for two huge American companies -- GE and Comcast -- as Vivendi's board of directors meets this Wednesday in Paris. One of the primary topics of conversation will undoubtedly be what to do with the company's stake in NBC Universal as it prepares to make an announcement in November about whether it will sell.

The stakes include the future of Universal Music Group, which it owns; Activision Blizzard, Inc., of which it owns 56%; and its telecommunications assets. In addition, there's the potential change in valuations for media companies by next year, when Vivendi could choose again to sell, and the fluctuating value of the dollar.

For more on the power of Vivendi in the future of NBC Universal and what might influence its decision making, read today's Times.

-- Ben Fritz

Photo: Vivendi Chief Executive Jean-Bernard Levy. Credit: Antoine Antoniol / Bloomberg