Vivendi In Exclusive Talks To Sell French Telecom Arm SFR

French media and telecom conglomerate Vivendi, Universal Music Group's parent company, said Friday that it has entered into exclusive talks to sell French telecom arm SFR with one of two bidders.

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The company has been looking at unloading the mobile phone unit to focus on its media and entertainment businesses.

Competitors Bouygues and Altice have recently submitted bids for SFR, with Vivendi announcing Friday an exclusive three-week negotiating period with the latter.

Bouygues had said Thursday it offered $15.8 billion (€11.3 billion) for a 53 percent stake in SFR in a deal that would allow Vivendi to retain 43 percent, with France's outdoor advertising giant JCDecaux to hold the remaining 4 percent. The offer was an increase from Bouygues' first offer of €10.5 billion.

Global mobile phone and cable service provider Altice submitted a competing bid of €11.75 billion in cash. Vivendi would retain a 32 percent stake in the merged entity. Altice runs France's cable operator Numericable.

"The supervisory board has now decided to enter into exclusive negotiations with Altice for a period of three weeks," Vivendi said in a statement. "It considers their offer to be the most pertinent for the group's shareholders and employees, with the opportunity for effective execution. The offer also achieves Vivendi's objective to rapidly become a leading European media and content player and develop SFR as a dynamic leader in high-speed fixed and mobile telephony."

At the end of the three-week negotiating period, Vivendi said its board would meet again "to examine the next steps and to decide if it should put an end to the other options envisaged."

Vivendi previously suggested spinning off SFR into a separate entity. By off-loading SFR, Vivendi could concentrate on its media and entertainment holdings in the form of Universal Music Group, French pay TV giant CanalPlus (which also operates in Africa, Poland and Vitenam and has movie-making arm StudioCanal) and Brazilian broadband and pay TV operator GVT.

Vivendi has been making moves to solidify its place as a media company. In July, it sold off most of its stake in Santa Monica-based Activision Blizzard video game maker for $8.2 billion. In November, it sold its 53 percent stake in Maroc Telecom for $5.6 billion (€4.2 billion) and hired former Hearst Magazines International executive vp Arnaud de Puyfontaine to head its media and content businesses.

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