Vivendi bids au revoir to entertainment

Vivendi is set to sell its US entertainment group, but not necessarily the Universal Music Group, which has been the subject of recent speculation

Faltering French media giant Vivendi Universal plans to unload most of its US entertainment business but will not immediately sell its Universal Music Group division, chief executive Jean-Rene Fourtou said.

Rumors of a possible sale of Universal Music Group circulated in the weeks preceding Tuesday's shareholder meeting, with Apple Computer and Microsoft said to be among potential buyers courted by the company. But Fourtou on Tuesday left the future of the division up in the air.

Vivendi is struggling with a crippling debt taken on in a bid by former chief executive Jean-Marie Messier to transform a sleepy French utility into a modern media titan, straddling the Internet, television, music and publishing.

In 2002, the company recorded a net loss of about $26bn (about £16m) on sales of about $32bn. The company said it hopes to become profitable in 2003.

Fourtou said the company would focus on its telecommunications businesses, which include French cable company Canal Plus, phone company Cegetel and mobile service provider SFR.

On Tuesday, Edgar Bronfman Jr., vice chairman, defended his role in helping manage the company through its recent difficulties. Responding to a question from the audience, he said he was the first to act to oust Messier and his "irresponsible management." Bronfman was instrumental in brokering the $34bn merger between Seagram, Vivendi and Canal Plus that created the company in late 2000.

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