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Davis, Vivendi Chief Complete Talks

January 31, 2003|Richard Verrier | Times Staff Writer

Oil tycoon Marvin Davis wrapped up talks with Vivendi Universal Chief Executive Jean Rene Fourtou on Thursday, but the two sides aren't any closer to a deal, said sources familiar with the matter.

Davis renewed negotiations in Paris in hopes of convincing Fourtou to accept his previous offer to buy the French company's U.S. entertainment assets for $20 billion.

But while stopping short of rejecting Davis' overtures, Fourtou told Davis he wanted more time to consider offers from other potential suitors that have expressed interest in buying pieces of the company, which includes Universal's Hollywood studio, TV properties and theme parks and Universal Music Group, sources said.

Fourtou believes that Vivendi's shareholders are better off if the company sells the entertainment group piecemeal, rather than as a whole under the scenario Davis has proposed, said sources familiar with the negotiations. Fourtou's reasoning is that Vivendi could fetch better prices for individual assets and unload the properties more quickly and with fewer regulatory hurdles.

"Fourtou is trying to get the best deal he can and is trying to consider all options," a source said. "It's going to be a matter of price, value to shareholders and timing."

Vivendi also has been in preliminary discussions to sell various parts of the company with Liberty Media Corp., News Corp., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc., General Electric Co.'s NBC unit and Microsoft Corp.

Fourtou was named to replace Jean-Marie Messier last summer after Vivendi faced a liquidity crisis. Fourtou has reportedly decided to refocus Vivendi's future on the telecom business and is eager to find a quick exit from Hollywood.

Sources said that Fourtou and Davis did not rule out further talks. Representatives of Vivendi and Davis declined to comment Thursday.

Vivendi's board discussed various options Wednesday for its U.S. entertainment assets, including a public stock offering, outright sale or merger with another entertainment company.

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