The auction for Vivendi Universal Entertainment got a bit more interesting
after reports surfaced that Comcast Corp. is in preliminary talks with VUE
parent Vivendi Universal to acquire the assets.
According to sources familiar with the matter, Comcast is in the very early
stages of negotiations with Vivendi and could ultimately decide that it does not
want to participate.
But the addition of a sixth possible bidder -- and one with the financial
muscle of Comcast -- adds a new wrinkle to what has been a contentious bidding
process for VUE.
Comcast declined to comment. Officials at Vivendi did not return calls for
Vivendi placed VUE on the block early this year in an effort to raise money
to pare down its substantial debt.
Bids on the assets -- which include cable channels USA Network, Sci Fi
Channel, Trio and NewsWorld International, as well as Universal Studios and the
Universal theme parks -- have come in at between $11 billion-$11.5 billion.
Comcast would join five other known bidders for VUE: Liberty Media Corp.,
Viacom Inc., General Electric Co.’s NBC television unit, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Inc. and a group headed by former Vivendi vice chairman Edgar Bronfman.
While sources said it is unlikely that Comcast is very serious about a VUE
purchase, they added that the assets would make a good fit for the
Comcast already owns interests in several cable channels, including E!
Entertainment Television and The Golf Channel, and VUE’s film studio could
provide an extensive library of content to fuel the MSO’s video-on-demand
Comcast could raise between $10 billion-$12 billion just by monetizing its
joint cable ventures, its shares of AOL Time Warner Inc. stock and its 21%
interest in Time Warner Cable.
But whether Vivendi will sell VUE, keep it or sell a portion of the unit to
the public in an initial public offering is still up in the air. Adding to the
uncertainty is the high price Vivendi is reportedly asking for the assets -- $14