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Last Updated: Monday, 18 August, 2003, 20:26 GMT 21:26 UK
Final deadline for Universal bids
Promo for Captain Corelli's Mandolin
Vivendi will give up its US film business
The troubled media giant Vivendi Universal has reportedly received the final bids for the sale of its Hollywood film studios and theme parks.

Vivendi had been hoping to gain as much as $14bn (9bn) from the sale of Universal, which includes film studios, television interests, and theme parks.

But over the last three months, three of seven potential bidders have pulled out of the auction, and the company looks unlikely to realise the full amount it has been hoping for.

BIDDERS FOR UNIVERSAL
General Electric/NBC
Viacom/CBS
Edgar J. Bronfman
Liberty Media
Comcast*
MGM*
Marvin Davis*
*pulled out
Sources said that Vivendi has received all bids on Monday and would now assess the contenders.

The best hope for Vivendi may be a joint venture with General Electric's NBC, combining their cable television assets.

However, Vivendi chief executive Jean-Rene Fourtou may still decide to float Universal in September if he feels he does not have a credible bidder for the company.

Many bidders drop out

Vivendi was initially hoping that a flurry of bidders would push up the price of its US media assets - which could then be used to reduce its crushing debt burden of 13bn euros.

However, three of the main bidders have now dropped out before the final round - rival film studio Metro Goldwyn Mayer, cable giant Comcast, and oil billionaire Marvin Davis.

Comcast has confirmed that it is no longer bidding for the assets, but is still in discussions about a joint venture in cable television.
Enrique Iglesias
It will keep the music business with such artists such as Enrique Iglesias
MGM, meanwhile, bid just $11.5bn before dropping out.

Jean-Marie Messier bought the Universal assets from the Bronfman family three years ago as part of his grand plan to build a media giant to rival AOL Time Warner.

The French mogul spent heavily on turning Vivendi from a water company into a huge media empire, but built up a vast debt pile in the process.

Mr Messier was ousted a year ago after shareholders became increasingly angry about the company's finances.

Vivendi is now claiming 23m euros ($25.7m) in compensation and damages from Mr Messier and his ex-managing director Eric Licoys, according to a company lawyer.

Deal on the cards

Now Mr Bronfman, the former head of Seagram, is one of the remaining bidders - but he is unlikely to be able to raise the cash required.

Many of the bidders appear just to be interested in Universal's cable television business.

Media giant Viacom, which owns Paramount studios, CBS and MTV, is continuing negotiations on this basis.

And Liberty Media, the cable and media company run by John Malone, said it was still interested in the deal on Friday - but Liberty is in the midst of acquiring the QVC shopping channel for $7.9bn.

Most analysts think the most likely outcome will be a joint venture with GE, with Vivendi holding a minority stake.

That would not give Vivendi the cash it wants immediately, but it could sell its stake at some point in the future - or it could borrow the money from its bankers on the strength of that tie-up.

"As time goes by, the likelihood of a full-scale sale happening is decreasing," said Mark Harrington, of Bear Stearns.

"The discrepancy between Vivendi's $14 billion asking price and recent bids is too large."

Vivendi's board will meet to take a final decision by the end of August.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Nicole Goebel
"Vivendi argues no payments have to be paid"



SEE ALSO:
US TV firm shuns Vivendi
14 Aug 03  |  Business
Vivendi fails to lure MGM
30 Jul 03  |  Business
Vivendi narrows list of bidders
01 Jul 03  |  Business
Bids in for Vivendi's US empire
23 Jun 03  |  Business
Vivendi posts new record loss
06 Mar 03  |  Business
Media mogul quits Vivendi
19 Mar 03  |  Business


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