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Vivendi, Canal + & Seagram Merger Approved In France

The Conseil Superieur de lAudiovisuel (CSA), a French broadcasting watchdog, has approved the three-way merger between Vivendi, Canal + and Seagram, the parent of Universal Pictures. The okay came on the heels of Vivendi chairman and CEO Jean-Marie Messiers decision not to fold Canal +s subscriber base into Vivendi Universal, thus avoiding French television ownership laws prohibiting a single shareholder from owning 49% or more of a TV network. The new set up will keep the 4.5 million subscribers and other assets under the control of Canal +, who will collect revenues directly from subscribers then direct them on to the newly created Canal + Distribution, a subsidiary wholly owned by Vivendi Universal. The council also ruled that Canal + must retain control of pricing and commercial policy. Under the final arrangement, the CSA said, "Canal + will have long-term control of its subscription, advertising and sponsorship revenue and can therefore honor its regulatory and contractual obligations," notably its US$128 million per year investment in French film production. "The editorial identity and nature of programming will not be affected by (the Vivendi-Seagram) project," the CSA said. The counsel was concerned that if Vivend Universal controlled every aspect of Canal +, except for the broadcasting division, it would leave the pay channel an "empty shell." The future of animation from the new mega-giant is in limbo. Whether or not the Universal produced LAND BEFORE TIME series and Canal + owned animation house Ellipse Productions will get lost in the shuffle is yet to be known.

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Rick DeMott
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