September 11, 2013 / 4:37 PM / 4 years ago

Vivendi says to decide on demerger plan by early 2014

A woman holding a young girl in her arms is silhouetted as she walks past the main entrance of the entertainment-to-telecoms conglomerate Vivendi's headquarters in Paris, August 28, 2013. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

PARIS (Reuters) - Vivendi (VIV.PA) said it aimed to decide on whether to split its media businesses from its French telecom unit SFR by early next year, and named its largest shareholder Vincent Bollore as vice-chairman of its board.

“Vivendi’s supervisory board has unanimously decided to launch a study to split the group into two separate companies,” it said in a statement on Wednesday.

The announcement ends a week-old boardroom crisis that has roiled the French conglomerate, which is in the midst of restructuring and selling assets to remake itself.

Bollore, a French corporate raider and industrialist, clashed with Vivendi’s powerful chairman Jean-Rene Fourtou over naming a new CEO, as he sought more influence over the group’s future.

Bollore even floated his own name as a CEO candidate before pulling out on Wednesday in exchange for an agreement that Fourtou would step aside as chairman by summer 2014, people familiar with the situation earlier said.

Vivendi has now made Bollore the official number two on the board, putting him in line to take over when Fourtou leaves. It also puts to rest some concern among investors and analysts that Bollore did not agree with Fourtou’s plan to split up the company.

The split that Vivendi is envisaging would leave SFR, the second-biggest telecom operator in France, an independent company to compete with Orange (ORAN.PA) and Bouygues (BOUY.PA).

The media company would include Universal Music Group and pay-TV provider Canal Plus to create “a new international media group based in France.”

Before such a split could be done, Vivendi would have to pay down its debt pile using the proceeds from the sales of its video games maker Activision Blizzard (ATVI.O) and Maroc Telecom. Taking into account disposals, Vivendi’s net debt will drop to 6.5 billion euros from 17.4 billion euros as of June 30, the company said last month.

“The planned demerger would create significant value to shareholders as they would have the opportunity to invest in two clearly differentiated vehicles evaluated according to the specifics of their respective sectors,” said the company.

Vivendi shares closed down 1.1 percent to 16.70 euros per share on Wednesday.

Reporting by Leila Abboud, Editing by Natalie Huet

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