Expedia Pulls USA Deal from Agenda

Travel site operation Expedia Inc. said that in light of Vivendi Universal’s acquisition of USA Networks’ entertainment assets, there would be no shareholder vote today on its planned acquisition by USA Networks.

Paris-based Vivendi agreed to a $10.3 billion deal with USA Networks in a move aimed at improving distribution of the French media giant’s music and movies in the United States.

The deal calls for cash and stocks to be put into a new company — Vivendi Universal Entertainment, in which Vivendi will have a 93 percent stake. USA Networks’ Barry Diller will be chairman and chief executive of the new company.

The new company will combine USA’s cable networks, television production unit and film company with Universal Studios — Vivendi’s theme parks and movie studio.

USA Networks, which also has a ticketing and online transactions business, will change its name to USA Interactive, and presumably, if the deal with Expedia goes through, this will be the company that acquires the travel company. Diller reportedly will remain as the boss at USA Interactive.

Bellevue, Wash.-based Expedia, whose annual shareholder meeting was scheduled for today, said in a terse statement today that it “intends to deliver updated documentation to Expedia shareholders, as and when appropriate, in anticipation of a Special Meeting to consider the USA/Expedia merger transaction early in 2002.”

Expedia shareholders will still consider the election of a board of directors at the meeting. The company’s stock was climbing today, up 53 cents in the early going to $37.30. The USA acquisition plan had valued the shares at about $40 each.

USA Networks struck the complex, mega-million dollar deal with Expedia’s largest shareholder, Microsoft Corp., last July.

But that deal is small potatoes compared to Vivendi’s USA acquisition, which reaches into the billions. Vivendi is the world’s second-largest media company, and analysts think that it is hoping Diller can expand its presence in the United States to compete with the likes of AOL Time Warner, Disney Co. and Viacom.

The big winner on a personal level is Diller, who is effectively selling back to Vivendi television assets, which he bought from Edgar Bronfman Jr., Vivendi’s outgoing executive vice chairman, for $4.1 billion in 1997.

“This shows that our U.S. strategy is really coming together … we are addressing our relative weakness in the U.S. market,” Vivendi Chairman and CEO Jean-Marie Messier told Paris analysts in a conference call.

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