Vivendi Sells off Vizzavi Stake

European wireless carrier Vodafone Group Plc has wrapped its plans to buy out struggling media giant Vivendi’s 50 percent stake in their content and portal venture Vizzavi Group.

Vodafone paid Vivendi (Euro) 142.7 million in cash, or about US $140.4 million. The deal comes as Vivendi looks to sell off chunks of media holdings in order to reduce its debt after a media buying spree in the late 1990s.

The company also said it sold off its news magazine group to French publisher SocPresse, which should help it come up with about Euro 500 million (US $491 million) and make progress on its plan to sell off about $10 billion Euro (US $9.8 billion) worth of debt.

With the exception of Vizzavi France (which is still under the ownership of Vivendi Universal and will still run on the Vizzavi platform), Vodafone now owns the mobile content portal, which both companies launched in 2000.

Vodafone said it would continue to focus Vizzavi’s operations on providing multi-media entertainment-led consumer content and would further integrate the portal’s operations into the Vodafone Group. Vizzavi’s content partnerships are apparently of keen interest to Vodafone. The company said it would use the portal’s assets to build the foundation for its soon-to-launched Vodafone Live! Consumer service.

The sale helps Vivendi (the second-largest media company in the world) beat an exit from its onetime strategy of owning vast media content and distribution assets.

During its acquisition heyday under former CEO Jean Marie Messier, the former water treatment company bought ownership or stakes in pay TV company Canal Plus, Universal Studios, Houghton Mifflin, online music site and a 10 percent share in satellite broadcaster Echostar, for example. In early July, Messier was ousted and replaced by Jean-Rene Fourtou at the company’s helm.

In a related development, a recent press report said the company is preparing to sell off its business search engine, whose debts have become a significant drain on Vivendi’s cash.

Vivendi also recently decided to put Boston-based publisher Houghton Mifflin on the block. The Financial Times reported Thursday that buyout firms Blackstone Group and Thomas H. Lee Partners had put in a bid.

When it was introduced in 2000, Vizzavi was positioned as a mobile, PC and interactive TV portal that also sat on Vodafone’s new color screen mobile phones. By some estimates, both companies invested more than 1 billion Euro into the venture.

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