Italy Regulator Rules Vivendi Can't Keep Big Stakes in Both Mediaset, Telecom Italia -- Update

By Deborah Ball Features Dow Jones Newswires

Italian antitrust regulators threw a wrench into Vincent Bollore's quest to expand his media empire, ruling the French billionaire can't keep both of the large stakes he has built up in Mediaset SpA and Telecom Italia SpA.

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AGCOM said Tuesday that stake-building by Mr. Bollore's Vivendi SA in the two companies breaches Italian antitrust regulations banning companies from having an excessive share in both the domestic telecommunications and media markets.

Vivendi must rid itself of its stake in one of the companies within a year, according to the ruling. AGCOM ordered Vivendi to present a detailed plan within 60 days as to how it would comply with the order.

In late 2015, Mr. Bollore began amassing a large stake in Telecom Italia that now stands at 24%.

According to people familiar with Mr. Bollore's thinking, Vivendi will appeal the ruling.

In a brief statement Tuesday evening, Mediaset praised the ruling.

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Late last year, Mr. Bollore bought a nearly 30% stake in Mediaset, Italy's largest private-television broadcaster, which is controlled by former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. The move by the French billionaire angered Mr. Berlusconi and drew lawsuits from Mediaset.

Analysts believe that, if forced to decide, Mr. Bollore will keep the stake in Telecom Italia, although the people familiar with the mogul's thinking say he is still hoping to convince Mr. Berlusconi to strike a deal to supply Mediaset content to Telecom Italia subscribers and develop a partnership to transmit their programs over the internet.

Vivendi has moved lately to tighten its grip on Telecom Italia. At Telecom Italia's shareholder meeting in early May, Vivendi plans to nominate 10 directors to the company's new board, which will be reduced to 15 members. It may also push for Vivendi Chief Executive Arnaud de Puyfontaine to become Telecom Italia's new chairman.

Write to Deborah Ball at deborah.ball@wsj.com

ROME -- Italy's communications regulator threw a wrench into Vincent Bollore's quest to expand his media empire, ruling the French billionaire can't keep both of the large stakes he has built up in Mediaset SpA and Telecom Italia SpA.

AGCOM said Tuesday that stake-building by Mr. Bollore's Vivendi SA in the two companies breaches Italian antitrust regulations banning companies from having an excessive share in both the domestic telecommunications and media markets.

Vivendi must rid itself of its stake in one of the companies within a year, according to the ruling. AGCOM ordered Vivendi to present a detailed plan within 60 days as to how it would comply with the order.

In late 2015, Mr. Bollore began amassing a large stake in Telecom Italia that now stands at 24%.

In a statement, Vivendi said it was surprised by the ruling, adding that it had not violated Italian law in holding stakes in both companies. In particular, it said that it exercises no control over Mediaset, given that Mr Berlusconi has effective control over the company. Vivendi said it will appeal the decision.

In a brief statement Tuesday evening, Mediaset praised the ruling.

Late last year, Mr. Bollore bought a nearly 30% stake in Mediaset, Italy's largest private-television broadcaster, which is controlled by former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. The move by the French billionaire angered Mr. Berlusconi and drew lawsuits from Mediaset.

Analysts believe that, if forced to decide, Mr. Bollore will keep the stake in Telecom Italia, although the people familiar with the mogul's thinking say he is still hoping to convince Mr. Berlusconi to strike a deal to supply Mediaset content to Telecom Italia subscribers and develop a partnership to transmit their programs over the internet.

Vivendi has moved lately to tighten its grip on Telecom Italia. At Telecom Italia's shareholder meeting in early May, Vivendi plans to nominate 10 directors to the company's new board, which will be reduced to 15 members. It may also push for Vivendi Chief Executive Arnaud de Puyfontaine to become Telecom Italia's new chairman.

Write to Deborah Ball at deborah.ball@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

April 18, 2017 18:35 ET (22:35 GMT)