Vivendi chief 'very pleased' with NBC Universal
Is French media giant Vivendi souring on its investment in NBC Universal -- perhaps un petit peu?
Mais non, says Vivendi Chief Executive Jean-Bernard Levy.
Nonetheless, Vivendi plans to write down the value of its 20% stake in NBC Universal next month when the French company reports its quarterly earnings. For now, Vivendi won't discuss the amount of the anticipated noncash charge, which is necessary to reflect the lower valuation of the U.S. company that boasts the NBC broadcast network, cable channels USA Network, Bravo and MSNBC, and Universal Studios.
General Electric Co., whose stock has been pummeled in the market meltdown, owns the controlling 80% of NBC Universal. When GE and Vivendi combined their entertainment properties in 2004 to create NBC Universal, the enterprise was valued at more than $40 billion, making Vivendi's portion worth around $8 billion. (GE reiterated Tuesday that it had no plans to reduce the value of NBC that it carries on its battered books.)
"It's a tough environment, but we are very pleased with NBC," Levy said during an interview in Santa Monica. "We are pleased with the profits that NBC has achieved; the overall performance of NBC U has been very good."
Vivendi had an opportunity in December to divest its stake in NBC Universal -- but it chose not to. The timing was not right because of the U.S. media company's depressed trading multiples, Levy said. Vivendi intends to hang on to its interest until the market bounces back.
How long will Vivendi be part of the peacock company? Levy would not tip his hand other than to say, "We are not long-term owners." He added that his company prefers to be in the "driver's seat" of its investments, and that is not the case with NBC.
Still, Levy is a big fan of the guy behind the wheel, NBC Universal CEO Jeff Zucker.
"I like him very much, he is an excellent manager and he certainly knows his business," Levy said of Zucker. The two CEOs spent time together last weekend in Tampa, where they attended the Super Bowl, which was televised by NBC and generated huge ratings.
Levy now is expecting Zucker to make similar gains in the financial field. "We are happy that we will share in the potential value creation that he and his team will implement," Levy said.
-- Meg James
Photo of Vivendi CEO Jean-Bernard Levy by Alex Pham/Los Angeles Times