Vivendi in talks on publishing arm sale to Kretinsky to ease Lagardere deal

By Sudip Kar-Gupta

PARIS (Reuters) -Vivendi is in exclusive talks to sell publisher Editis to a company owned by billionaire Daniel Kretinsky, it said on Tuesday, in a deal that could help win regulatory approval for its takeover of Lagardere.

The French media conglomerate, controlled by billionaire Vincent Bollore, is aiming to buy Hachette owner Lagardere.

But the prospect of merging Editis with France’s largest publisher has triggered criticism from independent publishers and resulted in Editis losing some well-known authors.

European Union antitrust authorities have also sent Vivendi a formal statement of objections over the proposed takeover.

Vivendi said it was in talks about the the sale of Editis with International Media Invest (IMI), a subsidiary of Czech Media Invest founded by Kretinsky.

Vivendi said its decision to embark on the talks meant it was dropping an earlier plan to spin off Editis and float it on the Paris stock market.

Vivendi added the envisaged sale of Editis would need approval from the European Commission.

“I am very happy and proud of the possibility of becoming a shareholder of a publishing flagship like Editis if the process comes through,” Kretinsky said in a statement.

“I am aware of the responsibilities that such an acquisition entails in view of the quality of the houses that comprise the group and their place in French intellectual history,” he added.

“The sale of Editis is part of Vivendi’s charm strategy with the European Commission to win authorisation to take over Lagardere,” said Gregoire Laverne, a fund manager at APICIL Asset Management which owns Vivendi shares.

Laverne said a sale of Editis could be worth around 600-900 million euros ($642 million-$964 million).

Kretinsky has built up one of Europe’s biggest energy companies over the last decade.

In France, he has stakes in Le Monde newspaper, supermarket company Casino and TV group TF1.

($1 = 0.9340 euros)

(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta, additional reporting by Dominique Vidalon, editing by Mark Potter and Jason Neely)