In its first quarter to March 31, Paris-headquartered media, telecoms and utilities conglomerate Vivendi Universal hiked operating profits by 10% to €930 million ($1.136bn; £619.85bn) on sales down four per cent to €5.97bn.

But increases in interest rates, plus an effective tax rate of around 45% again thrust the group into negative net numbers.

In the wake of Vivendi's sale of its US entertainments assets to NBC, investors have now turned their beady eye on the less-than sparkling performance of the group's European media assets, triggering questions about the group's strategic direction.

Chief executive Jean-René Fourtou, approaching his third year in the Vivendi hotseat, now insists the group should remain a player both in the media and telecoms sectors -- despite his rebuttal of synergies between these businesses when taking office in July 2002.

Fourtou is echoing the now highly unpopular views of his flamboyant predecessor Jean-Marie Messier, effectively endorsing the latter's vision for a national champion in the French media industry.

Data sourced from: Financial Times; additional content by WARC staff