Vivendi appears to be paving the way for its planned sell-off of up to 50% of Universal Music Group to happen in 2020 rather than this year. That’s the gist, at least, of comments made by chairman Yannick Bolloré in an interview with Bloomberg (and reported on by Billboard) maintaining that the plans are proceeding smoothly.
“As you may know the music industry is going through a huge period of growth and the business is thriving and we want to make sure we can accelerate this growth in the coming years,” said Bolloré. “So, for now we have communicated that we want to open up the process before the end of 2019 and all the management of Vivendi is very confident that the process is still on track… You know we’re not in a hurry. Vivendi is doing very well. UMG is doing very well. The question is how to find the right partner: up to 50%. Once again, everything’s fine. Trust me.” Sceptics will undoubtedly wonder whether this is protesting too much.
Vivendi *does* have options though: Tencent, Liberty Media and even Google have been mentioned in various speculative reports on who might want to buy half of UMG. However, some of those suitors would trigger an immediate clash with the independent sector: something that has been made clear, again, by Impala’s executive chair Helen Smith in an interview with The Industry Observer.
“Currently being reported is that suitors for Universal include Google and Tencent. The resulting level of vertical integration would pose considerable risks for competitors and citizens. We can’t imagine any regulator in Europe or elsewhere approving such a move and we’ll continue to monitor that very closely,” said Smith, who later cited “the sale of Universal” as one of the two big fights ahead for the indie sector, alongside the national implementation of the European copyright directive.
Whether such a battle ensues will depend, of course, on who emerges as the preferred buyer, and for what size stake, in Universal Music. But talking about it now is no accident: Impala is putting those potential suitors on notice of the regulatory battles ahead, which in turn may affect their decisions with regards to the sell-off. It is probably for the best that Vivendi is not scrambling to tie up a deal in a matter of months.