French conglomerate Vivendi steadily whittled away at its once-extensive portfolio after coming close to collapse in the early 2000s, narrowing its focus to broadcast media and music. It owns France's leading pay-TV service Canal+, as well as the global music giant Universal Music. Numerous other subsidiaries were divested, reducing revenues by two-thirds or more to a low of €10bn by 2014. Most notably, the group's substantial telecoms assets were sold that year, including mobile company SFR, as well as its remaining shares in global gaming giant Activision Blizzard. However, later the same year, Vincent Bolloré became chairman of Vivendi, and is also now its biggest shareholder, having steadily increased his holding to over 20% of voting shares. In an apparent u-turn, Bolloré has returned the group to both telecoms and gaming, accumulating what is now - controversially - a controlling 25% stake in Telecom Italia, outright ownership of mobile game developer Gameloft via a hostile takeover and, for a while, a significant minority stake in French videogame developer Ubisoft. (Those shares were eventually sold in 2018 after all attempts at a full takeover were fought off). Bolloré's family company had also been controlling shareholder in marketing group Havas, itself once part of Vivendi, prompting speculation that the two businesses would eventually be reunited. As expected, Vivendi bought out the Bolloré Group's stake in Havas in 2017 for €2.36bn, and had accumulated most of the remaining shares by year's end. These various deals have caused revenues to rise once more, reaching €12.4bn in 2017. Bolloré stepped down unexpectedly as chairman in Spring 2018, to be succeeded by his son Yannick Bolloré. Arnaud de Puyfontaine is group CEO. Vivendi was created in the late 1990s by dynamic new chairman Jean-Marie Messier, who transformed what was then the utilities group Compagnie Generale Des Eaux into a global media giant. But the newly renamed Vivendi Universal accumulated huge debts in the process, leading to a series of escalating losses. Misjudged management decisions and an impending cash crisis led to the ousting of Messier in 2002 (as well as fines and a suspended jail sentence), and a new management team was appointed to dismantle the mess he left behind, selling off utilities division Veolia and entertainment group Universal Studios among other businesses. Adbrands no longer profiles this company but subscribers may access account assignments and contact information. The searchable account assignments database is available to full subscribers to Adbrands.net premium services. See also:
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Capsule checked 13th April 2018
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Adbrands Weekly Update 10th May 2018: In another setback for French financier Vincent Bolloré, his Vivendi group lost board control of Telecom Italia after its shareholders rejected his proposed line-up of new directors in favour of an alternative team endorsed by US activist investor Elliott. Many Telecom Italia investors have become increasingly frustrated with Vivendi's creeping takeover of one of Italy's most famous corporate jewels via a minority stake. Elliott won just over 49.8% of a shareholder vote on the make-up of the new board, narrowly defeating Vivendi's 47.2% support. That gives Elliott around two-thirds of board representation. Bolloré is also currently under investigation over alleged bribery of government officials in Africa to secure ownership of valuable container ports in Togo and Guinea.
Adbrands Weekly Update 26th Apr 2018: Vincent Bolloré stepped down unexpectedly as chairman of French media and telecoms group Vivendi at the end of last week and was succeeded by his son Yannick Bolloré, also CEO of marketing group Havas, which is now a subsidiary of Vivendi. Just a few days later Bolloré senior was arrested by French police on charges of bribery, along with the CEO of his privately controlled Bolloré Groupe and Havas's director of public affairs. The three men are being questioned over alleged corruption in Africa, where Bolloré Groupe has extensive business interests. It is alleged that the group arranged for Havas - then a Bolloré Group subsidiary - to assist with re-election campaigns on behalf of the presidents of Guinea and Togo in 2010 at below-market rates. That same year Bolloré Groupe gained control of two shipping terminals in both countries' capitals. The group denies any wrongdoing.
Adbrands Weekly Update 22nd Mar 2018: Vivendi abandoned its hostile pursuit of French gaming group Ubisoft after a three year battle with the software company's board and other investors. The media group said it has sold the 27% stake it had accumulated in Ubisoft for around €2bn.
Adbrands Weekly Update 22nd Feb 2018: Revenues have been rising steadily at French conglomerate Vivendi since Vincent Bollore took control of the group in 2014. His predecessors had been steadily divesting what they considered to be non-core assets; he has just as steadily been moving back into areas such as telecoms and gaming (and indeed marketing) that had previously been exited. As a result, revenues have rebounded from a low of just over €10bn in 2014 to €12.4bn for last year, including a part-year contribution from newly consolidated Havas. Attributable net income was slightly lower at €1.2bn, but the adjusted figure excluding exceptionals jumped by almost 75%. Challenges remain, not least at Canal+, where revenues were flat at €5.3bn. Continuing declines in France - where direct subscriber numbers fell below 5m at the end of the year, from over 6m in 2015 - were offset by growth elsewhere, primarily in Africa and to a lesser extent Poland. However, Universal Music is enjoying the benefits of the resurgence in the global music business, with revenues up 8% to €5.7bn, helped by a near-one-third increase in revenues from streaming to almost €2bn. Universal alone contributes over 70% of Vivendi's operating profit.
Adbrands Weekly Update 18th May 2017: As widely anticipated for at least a year, the Bolloré clan have taken steps to consolidate control of their entertainment and media interests. Media giant Vivendi, chaired and 20%-controlled by Vincent Bolloré, has offered to acquire the 60% stake in Havas Group held by his private vehicle Bolloré Group for €2.36bn. Havas is of course run by Bolloré's son Yannick Bolloré. The combination would, ironically, reunite two businesses that were already at one time stablemates. The original core of what is now Vivendi was the old Agence Havas media and marketing group. One of Vivendi's few remaining holdovers from the original Havas business is its controlling stake in pay-TV platform Canal+, and this has been joined by Universal Music as well as various telecoms and computer gaming interests. In a memo to Havas staff Yannick Bolloré emphasised the potential synergies between the two groups. "Our groups evolve in the same environment, some of our teams already collaborate and our cultures are similar and complementary... Our clients expect us to come up with innovative solutions and having privileged access to Vivendi's prestigious assets would enable us to create unique offerings and services all over the world." Yet regulatory approval is by no means guaranteed, since the merger would combine dominance in multiple influential communications media. Departing Publicis CEO Maurice Levy complained that this would represent a return to 1980s-style conflicts of interest: "I’m not sure advertisers will like that they lose neutrality in their recommendations." Vivendi said that Havas would have to bid against other agencies for access to its media channels. Yet combination would seem to directly contravene France's Loi Sapin, introduced in 1993 to increase media transparency, which prevented agencies from acting as both buyer and seller of ad space. That law will be expanded next year to cover digital media, currently excluded from its remit. As a result, Havas could theoretically be barred from buying any advertising space on Canal+ or the group's other broadcast and digital channels. Clearly we're entering new territory here. As Sir Martin Sorrell told the Advertising Week Europe conference as long ago last year, Bolloré is a "fascinating example of someone who owns media, content and a telecoms platform, and an agency. It’s never been done before".
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