The abrupt reversal of Vivendi Universal’s recent acquisition strategy under new boss Jean-René Fourtou continues apace, with reports that the media giant is mulling several major divestments.

One plan under consideration is to merge Vivendi’s American entertainment assets with some units of John Malone’s Liberty Media cable group, currently one of Vivendi’s biggest shareholders.

Such a manoeuvre could see Universal Studios, Universal Music and the recently purchased USA Networks combined with Liberty’s Starz and Encore cable networks and also possibly its Discovery Communications. These would be incorporated into a new company in which Vivendi would retain a majority stake.

In its bid to reduce debt and avoid a cash crunch, Vivendi is also secretly considering the sale of its Express-Expansion French magazine unit, according to a report in the Financial Times.

Express-Expansion is one of Vivendi’s flagship divisions. It owns 16 magazines, among them prestigious news title L’Express and economics and finance publication L’Expansion.

The publishing arm was not included in the asset disposal programme announced recently [WAMN: 16-Aug-02]. However, Vivendi has tried to sell it before, but decided to take it off the market when the deal met political opposition.

On that occasion, in 1997, Express-Expansion was to be sold to arms group Dassault, the biggest shareholder in centre-right daily newspaper Le Figaro, prompting a concerted effort to sink the sale from socialist politicians unwilling to see L’Express veer to the right. Similar opposition is likely if Dassault is involved in any new auction.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that ousted Vivendi boss Jean-Marie Messier remains on four separate boards within the media empire and has no intention of stepping down.

He is still on the boards of Vivendi Environnement (where he has a casting vote as chairman), telecoms unit Cegetel, Canal Plus Group and Seagram.

Data sourced from: multiple sources; additional content by WARC staff