Vivendi, News Corp close to finalising Italy pay TV deal

LOS ANGELES: Media conglomerate Vivendi Universal is said to be completing talks over the sale of its Italian pay TV operator to Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

A Reuters report indicates that the cut-price deal is worth close to one billion euros and will be finalised within a few days. The cash and debt deal was slashed from the original 1.5 billion euro price tag. In another fund-raising exercise, Vivendi's French pay TV unit Canal Plus - which is Telepiu's parent - was expected to announce the sale of its software unit to electronics firm Thomson Multimedia after a staff meeting on Tuesday.

Murdoch is seeking a broader foothold in Europe and re-negotiated the acquisition as cash-strapped Vivendi looked at asset sales and as wrangling with Italy's soccer clubs over broadcast rights raised uncertainty over the value of the deal to buy Telepiu. The report indicates that the media mogul plans to merge Telepiu with News Corp's own Italian rival Stream to create a single pay TV operator in a bid to stem huge losses which piled up as the two operators fought to outbid each other for broadcast rights to Italian soccer.

The deal could assign a core value of some 800 million euros to Telepiu, stripping out extras to cover advance payments. But after what have been tough and often volatile negotiations, they stressed the terms could still change. A merger of Telepiu and Stream would mark the latest round of consolidations in European pay TV, which has produced few profitable operators.

Some operators, such as Britain's ITV Digital, have even been forced out of business as they struggled to compete against a host of local rivals. The price tag for Telepiu includes extras such as reimbursements for pre-paid programme rights. Similarly, the original 1.5 billion euro deal included 500 million euros in reimbursements for rights to future sporting events and the sale of two licences. Murdoch wants to get down to making the Italian business profitable. Stream has so far burned a sizeable hole in News Corp's pocket and the group has also been reeling from a failed adventure in German pay television. The future of Stream and Telepiu has been hanging in the balance for many months.

Vivendi and News Corp had originally planned to merge the two operators but fell foul of regulators amid fears over two of the world's biggest media groups controlling Italy's pay television market together. Vivendi then sought to buy Stream before reversing tack and selling Telepiu to News Corp.

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