Vivendi Mum on NBCU

French Media Firm's Put Rights Begin on Nov. 15

Vivendi S.A. chief financial officer Philippe Capron nipped any hopes of news on the Comcast-NBC Universal merger in the bud Thursday, telling analysts and investors on the company's third-quarter conference call that it would not discuss the potential merger.

"At the risk of disappointing some of you, I have to make a preliminary statement. We are not going to comment on the NBCU or GVT situations, so please abstain from asking questions after the presentation because we are not at liberty to give any comment on either of those two situations," Capron said to start the call.

In September, Vivendi launched a tender offer to acquire Brazilian telecom company GVT. That deal is still pending. That tender offer was first thought to be the catalyst for Vivendi's plans to monetize its NBCU interest. But the Brazilian deal is reportedly on hold.

Vivendi holds a 20% interest in NBCU and it is the French firm's right to monetize that stake -- beginning on Nov. 15 -- that set the wheels of speculation in motion regarding the network. According to published reports and people familiar with the negotiations, Comcast and NBCU parent General Electric are close to a deal that would give Comcast a 51% controlling interest in an NBCU joint venture that would also include Comcast's cable networks.

Vivendi, however, holds the trump card on any deal -- reports and people familiar with the negotiations have said that talks hinge on Vivendi agreeing to sell its stake. As part of the deal that created NBCU in 2004, Vivendi has the right every Nov. 15 to force an initial public offering of the stake, sell it to GE or a third party, or hold onto it. That right extends into December (the Friday of the first full week of the month, or Dec. 11 this year).

While Vivendi had valued the stake at around $6 billion earlier this year, that was before interested buyers emerged. While the ultimate value of the stake will fall on Vivendi, it is likely it will increase significantly as time progresses.

According to published reports, GE and Comcast have agreed to value the JV at about $30 billion.