Billionaire Bollore Changes Tack With Latest Spanish Media Push
(Bloomberg) -- French billionaire Vincent Bollore has taken an uncharacteristically friendly approach to build a stake in Spain’s leading publisher and reinvigorate his plans to create a regional media powerhouse.
Bollore’s company Vivendi SA said Monday it has amassed 9.9% of Prisa, the owner of Spain’s national paper of record El Pais, after building a stake in French magazine, news and retail group Lagardere SCA.
The move is unusual for Bollore as he knocked on Prisa’s door rather than kicking it down: Vivendi’s stakebuilding had the approval of Joseph Oughourlian, the founder of top Prisa shareholder Amber Capital, a spokesman for Amber said.
Vivendi’s past investments in companies such as Italian broadcaster Mediaset SpA and Telecom Italia SpA led to time-consuming and costly battles for control of the assets.
The Prisa purchase suggests Bollore is ready to use persuasion as well as pressure to develop a southern European media empire spanning TV, video production, news and books. The investment drive is backed by 6 billion euros ($7.3 billion) earned from selling 20% of Universal Music Group, the world’s biggest music company and the company’s biggest asset by far.
Vivendi bought the Prisa stake shortly after Amber won a years-long activist fight for control of the Madrid-based company. The Amber spokesman said Vivendi is expected to stick with 9.9% of Prisa and, rather than buying more, will focus on crossover business opportunities with the other shareholders.
Still, the friendlier approach could evaporate if things don’t go Bollore’s way.
“With Bollore, today’s friend isn’t necessarily tomorrow’s one -- he still knows how to go on the offensive,” said Bryan Garnier analyst Thomas Coudry.
A representative for Vivendi declined to comment.
Vivendi, Amber Lose Court Fight to Grab Lagardere Board Seats
Bollore had previously clashed with the London-based Oughourlian over Vivendi’s investment in Lagardere, in which Amber is the second-biggest shareholder. The two then joined forces when luxury billionare Bernard Arnault began building his own, rival stake in the company.
The Prisa stake purchase helps Vivendi to build a bridge with Spain’s dominant phone and pay-TV company Telefonica SA -- the third-biggest shareholder in Prisa with a 9.4% stake.
Shortly after becoming Prisa’s chairman last month, Oughourlian said he was interested in seeing the company do something in audiovisual content production. Acquiring content and the means to broadcast it are part of Vivendi’s approach, said a person familiar with the Paris-based group’s strategy.
Telefonica declined to comment.
Vivendi also sees possible synergies between its growing publishing and press interests and Prisa’s presence in educational content, the person said.
Vivendi secured French publishing assets held by Germany’s Bertelsmann SE in December. Bollore also wants to pick up pieces of Lagardere including its Hachette publishing house that has a strong presence in the U.S. Vivendi must first successfully challenge an unusual holding structure that gives control to the founding Lagardere family.
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