Vivendi Universal Vice Chairman Edgar Bronfman Jr. is once again ruffling the Peacock's feathers.
Five years ago, the former chief executive of Seagram Co. foiled General Electric Co.-owned NBC's talks to merge with USA Networks, then partly owned by Seagram, former parent of Universal Studios.
Now, he's attempting to do the same -- although the odds are stacked against him.
A consortium headed by Bronfman submitted a cash-rich offer this week involving more than $13 billion for the Universal assets, putting it within range of Vivendi's minimum $14-billion asking price, sources familiar with the proposal said.
Although details were sketchy, sources said the offer involved more than $8 billion in cash and was considerably more lucrative than Bronfman's previous bid for all of Universal, including the music unit that is no longer part of the deal.
Company insiders and analysts say NBC has the best chance of landing the deal for Universal's movie studio, theme parks and cable TV units. They contend that the French conglomerate may be using Bronfman simply as a stalking horse to extract more out of NBC.
Still, Bronfman's deal is attractive enough that it could toughen Vivendi's choice between receiving upfront cash for the assets -- the original stated goal of the auction -- or agreeing to a merger that would defer its payday and delay its plan to exit Hollywood.
The Bronfman family owned the Universal unit before the assets were sold three years ago to Vivendi. Edgar Bronfman has touted his track record in building the Universal operation and his popularity with the existing managers. During his term as CEO of Seagram, Bronfman threatened to use his veto authority to block a proposed merger of NBC and USA, helping to torpedo the deal.
Representatives of Vivendi and Bronfman declined to comment.
Under the Bronfman proposal, Cablevision Systems Corp. would combine its cable assets, including American Movie Classics, We: Women's Entertainment and Independent Film Channel, with Universal's TV group. Bronfman has lined up backing from private equity firms and a commitment from a group headed by Wachovia Corp. and Merrill Lynch.
The third bidder that met Monday's deadline, Liberty Media Corp., submitted an offer said to be below the asking price.
Both Liberty and Bronfman have a stake in the outcome because they are large investors in the company.
Times staff writer Meg James contributed to this report.