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Vivendi-Mediaset: Bad Romance Gets Worse

Aditya Kishore
6/30/2017

Like the song says, breaking up is hard to do. Mediaset and Vivendi appear to be proving this is the case, with Mediaset S.p.A. chairman Fedele Confalonieri announcing a new claim against the French media conglomerate at the Mediaset Group's annual shareholder meeting earlier this week.

According to a report by Reuters, the new claim accused Vivendi of "contract violation, unfair competition and breaking TV pluralism laws." The two companies are already in court over Vivendi's last-minute decision to pull out of a deal to acquire Mediaset's Premium pay-TV business for €800 million ($857 million) last year.

It's a battle royal. Mediaset is owned by the family of the former Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, and is the leading private broadcaster in Italy. Vivendi is a major French media conglomerate, and the owner of Canal Plus, Universal Music Group and various other gaming and interactive media companies.

The romance began in April 2016, when the two decided to work together to create a pan-European service. The collaboration was to provide the muscle to compete both with the likes of Netflix and Amazon, but also take on Rupert Murdoch's Sky empire. Part of the deal included Vivendi's buying Media Premium, the broadcasters pay business. But then Vivendi suddenly pulled out, claiming that Mediaset's business projections seemed "overly-optimistic."

This sent Mediaset stocks plummeting, and Vivendi swooped in and increased its share of the company to 28.8%, sending alarm bells ringing at Mediaset. The Italian company also approved a share buyback scheme at the meeting, to protect it from any hostile takeover. The Berlusconis own nearly 40% of the company, and this will allow the company to add up to another 10% of its own shares, firming up ownership.

Meanwhile, Mediaset is also concentrating on turning around the Premium service. According to Confalonieri, Vivendi's sudden change of heart had not let the company "express its full potential" and management would now work to bring Premium revenue back to "equilibrium".

Any decent romance movie has to have a third wheel, and adding more drama to this relationship are Telecom Italia and Italian communications regulator Agcom . Vivendi is currently the largest shareholder in Telecom Italia, but earlier this year Agcom decided Vivendi could not maintain its existing share of both Mediaset and Telecom Italia. Italian regulation mandates that communications companies with a market share of 40% can't also control more than 10% of a TV, radio or publishing company. Vivendi has a 24% stake in Telecom Italia and 28.8% of Mediaset. (See Vivendi Still 'Hopeful' of Becoming Europe's Netflix and Eurobites: Vivendi Chief Adds Top Job at Telecom Italia.)

Vivendi is developing a plan to comply with its requirements, but is simultaneously arguing that it doesn't control Mediaset, so doesn't breach the regulation.

Meanwhile, Mediaset's new claim mentions unfair competition and damage to "TV pluralism," which is remarkably similar to the language used by the regulator -- who said the ties between the three (TI, Mediaset and Vivendi) risked a negative effect on "the existing level of competition in the markets involved and on the degree of pluralism in the media system.”

The big winners in this battle are probably Netflix and Sky. Vivendi's big plan to challenge both for European domination has hit some road bumps. But it is moving forward with its own streaming service for Europe, even as the legal battles continue.

— Aditya Kishore, Practice Leader, Video Transformation, Telco Transformation

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