Berlusconi slams Vivendi over change of mind on Premium

MediasetMediaset chairman Pier Silvio Berlusconi has hit out at Vivendi and categorically rejected the French media giant’s claims about being unaware of what it was buying when it signed up to take control of the Italian broadcaster’s pay TV unit.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Berlusconi said that Vivendi management had seen Mediaset Premium’s accounts two years ago when Telefónica took its 11% stake in the unit, and looked at them again ahead of signing the April 8 deal in which it agreed to buy out Mediaset’s majority stake.

Berlusconi said that the pair had a binding contract and said he was considering action in the civil and criminal courts, adding that Vivendi’s revised proposal, which would involve it taking a much smaller stake in Premium, was totally unexpected – something Vivendi has vigorously denied.

Despite the ramping up of the war of words between the two companies, Berlusconi said he was still open to a deal on the basis of what had been agreed in April.

Some industry observers believe the pair could still find room for an agreement. Vivendi’s revised proposal, which was emphatically rejected by Mediaset would see it take a 20% stake in Mediaset Premium, as against the 89% previously agreed, and move to take a 15% stake in Mediaset proper, as against the exchange of 3.5% in each other’s companies agreed in April.

The latter proposal provoked speculation in Italy that Vivendi was set on taking control of Mediaset itself by stealth. However, according to a report in French daily Le Monde, citing an unnamed French source, Vivendi has since mulled the idea of limiting its stake in Mediaset to 7%, which would align Vivendi and Mediaset’s voting rights thanks to the French rule that guarantees long-term investors double voting rights.

Vivendi could also up its stake in Premium to more than the 20% proposed by CEO Arnaud de Puyfontaine in his revised proposal, according to the report, but less than the 100% that would see it take on the burden of Premium’s future losses.

An unnamed Italian source meanwhile told the paper that the April 8 deal could be improved but without the structure envisaged being changed totally, adding that the two sides were still very far apart.