Debt-beset Vivendi Universal has brought forward to today (Monday) the deadline for bids for its publishing empire including the jewel in the crown, US educational publisher Houghton Mifflin.

Vivendi’s motive for piling on the pressure is uncertain. Some believe it could be a ploy to drive up the cash on the table; others see it as a defensive move against a takeover bid by Vodafone for its controlling interest in European telecoms operator Cegetel – even, some sources imply, a fullscale bid for Vivendi itself [WAMN: 16-Oct-02].

According to insiders, Vivendi may use the proceeds from the sale of its publishing division to buy out the remaining minority shareholders and retain control in the telecoms company; alternatively to tighten the screws on Vodafone to up its offer for Vivendi's Cegetel stake.

As at the weekend, known contenders for the publishing spoils are private equity firm Ripplewood and a private equity consortium (Blackstone Group, Thomas H Lee Partners, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Company, Bain Capital, Apax Partners and PAI Management); the Carlyle Group and Eurazeo, a publicly traded French investment firm that owns a stake in Lazard; and a team led by the French publisher Lagardère.

Data sourced from: New York Times; additional content by WARC staff