Vivendi chief fires fresh salvo in Mediaset dispute

French media group Vivendi has fired another shot in its ongoing battle with Mediaset, accusing the Italian broadcaster of providing “misleading” information during talks over a partnership last year.

Mediaset, one of the leading sports broadcasters in Italy, is currently seeking damages from Vivendi after it stepped away from an April 2016 agreement to take full control of pay-television broadcaster Mediaset Premium.

Mediaset's controlling shareholder Fininvest in August filed a claim for damages of €570m ($603.6m) against Vivendi for allegedly failing to comply with the terms of the takeover deal for Mediaset Premium.

Under the original deal, Vivendi was set to acquire 100 per cent of Mediaset Premium and exchange 3.5-per-cent stakes with Mediaset. Vivendi made a revised offer to sell a 3.5-per-cent stake in its business in exchange for a 20-per-cent shareholding in Mediaset Premium and a 3.5-per-cent stake in Mediaset, but this was rejected by Mediaset at the end of July.

Italian media reports have hinted at a possible peace deal between the pair but Arnaud de Puyfontaine, Vivendi’s chief executive, told UK newspaper the Financial Times that attempts to find a resolution had so far failed. He suggested that Vivendi received “wrong” information during talks about the deal.

De Puyfontaine said: “We signed an agreement in April 2016. We made it very clear that the nature of the information provided to us was misleading and we tried to find a way to get out of what was a kind of situation in which we were not happy.”

In response, Mediaset said Vivendi had agreed to the deal after one month of due diligence. “They had plenty of time to check Mediaset Premium fundamental financial and commercial data,” the company said. “On the basis of this due diligence they were able to agree a price… and (there were) only three specific reasons to refuse the closing. Not one of these reasons occurred and therefore Vivendi started to manipulate the truth creating huge damages to Mediaset.”

On the question of agreeing a deal with Mediaset, De Puyfontaine said: “Unfortunately circumstances have proved that the fair approach and the willingness to find (a solution) have been proved wrong by the events.”

Since revealing it held a three per cent stake in Mediaset in December, Vivendi has rapidly increased its shareholding, becoming the biggest investor behind Fininvest, the holding company of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Fininvest owns a 38.3 per cent stake in Mediaset, with Vivendi’s current interest said to be around the 30 per cent mark.

De Puyfontaine said Vivendi is still keen on driving forward with its Italian expansion plan. “Italy is very special,” he added. “The vision of Vivendi with a strong foothold in Southern Europe remains.”

The ongoing saga comes with Mediaset Premium set to contest rights tenders for domestic Serie A football and the Uefa Champions League, both of which are due to be held in the first half of this year.