20. Vivendi S.A.

Revenues 2020: € 16.090 billion



Vivendi is the eighth-largest media company in the world (And number one in France), although the company had to part with many of its international activities due to a ludicrous expansion strategy. In 2009, the company generated 56% of its revenues in the telecommunication division (profits, which are not considered in the media database's ranking). On top of that, Vivendi in an important producer of content through the Pay-TV group Canal+ (100%), the Universal Music Group (100%) and Activision Blizzard (%57), the world leader in all things computer game design (for PC, consoles and online), which emerged from a fusion between Vivendi Games and Activision in 2008.

General Information


42, avenue de Friedland, 75380 Paris CEDEX 08, Frankreich
Phone: 0033-1-71 71 10 00
Fax: 0033-1-71 71 10 01
Website: www.vivendi.com

Branches: Recorded music, pay-TV, film/TV-Production, film distribution and licensing, telecommunications, video games
Legal form: Public company 
Financial year: 01/01 - 12/31
Founding year: 1853 as 'Compagnie Générale des Eaux', 1998 changed into 'Vivendi', 2000 changed into 'Vivendi Universal', 2006 again changed into 'Vivendi'.

Table I: Economic Performance
Revenues (€ mio.)10,81910,76210,08922,13529,99428,81328,878**27,132**25,392**21,657**20,044
Profit (loss) after taxes (€ mio.)7546976261,5402,5502,9522,6982,5852,7352,8322,614
Share Price (in €, end of year)18,9519,8019,7219,1616.9516.9220.5820.9323.5131.1329.9


Table II: Segment revenues 2009-2012  (€ Mio.)

Universal Music GroupCanal+ GroupSFRMaroc TelecomActivision BlizzardGVTOther



Executives and Directors



  • Arnaud de Puyfontaine, Chief Executive Officer
  • Hervé Philippe, Chief Financial Officer
  • Stéphane Roussel, Chief Operating Officer
  • Frédéric Crépin, General Counsel
  • Simon Gillman, Chairman of Vivendi Village, Senior Executive Vice President, Communications

Supervisory Board:

  • Vincent Bolloré, Group Bolloré
  • Philippe Bénacin, Interparfums
  • Tarak Ben Ammar, The Weinstein Company
  • Yannik Bolloré, Havas Group
  • Paulo Cardoso, Vivendi
  • Dominique Delport, Havas Group
  • Aliza Jabès, Groupe Nuxe
  • Cathia Lawson-Hall
  • Virginie Morgon, Eurazeo
  • Katie Stanton, Twitter
  • Véronique Driot-Argentin
  • Sandrine Le Bihan



He who grasps at too much loses everything – and that proverb does not apply to any other media company more than it applies to Vivendi. Within a decade, the traditional water supplier Compagnie Générale des Eaux (CGE, founded in 1853) became an international media empire, accumulated tremendous losses of 37 billion Euros, collapsed and is nothing but a meager shadow of its former existence.

In 1987, the CGE entered the media business, initially active in the mobile service division (based on SFR) and film production (Générale d’Images). The communication segment did not become the strategic axis of development until 1996, when Jean-Marie Messier – born in 1956 and former student at the École polytechnique and the Elite university ENA (École nationale d'administration), took over the company's leadership.
Together with Mannesmann AG and British Telecom, a provider of fixed network services – Cegetel - was founded in 1996. When the French rail-road SNCF's fixed network was acquired, Cegetel went on to become the number two on the French market. In February 1997, Messier took control of the Havas media company (parent group of Canal+). The year after, CGE completely absorbed the company, was renamed to Vivendi. When Cendant Software was bought, a producer of educational PC software, the company completed its entry into the multimedia sector.

Jean-Marie Messier now pushed the international orientation of the company. The company portfolio was broadened with the addition of South American educational publishers in 1999 and the company's historic core – the environmental division – was extended through the acquisition of US Filter.  Vivendi also got involved in Monaco Telecom and the landline providers Elektrim (Poland) and Matel (Hungary). The year 1999 also saw the merger with the French cinema and production group Pathé.

In the year 2000, the company prepared to make a 'giant leap forward' that would fail miserably: During the peak of the stock market boom, Messier announced the merger with Canal+ and Seagram (Spirits, Universal Studios and Universal Music). The company renamed to Vivendi Universal and segmented its business into six divisions: Universal Music Group, Vivendi Universal Publishing (ex-Havas), TV&Film, Telecommunication, Internet as well as Vivendi Environment, turned into a listed company at the Paris stock market by Messier. Despite this fusion - quite a colossal one in its own regard - Vivendi Universal did not stray from its expansion course, fired up by the Internet and media euphoria at the stock market.

In the same year, the Kenyan mobile phone service operator Kencell was acquired, plus 35% of the Maroc Telecom brand. As a member of the Xfera-consortium, Messier also secured a Spanish UMTS-license. More dotcom companies followed in 2001 (including MP3.com) as well as the US educational book publisher Houghton Mifflin, USA Networks and an involvement in the US satellite operator Echostar. The last acquisition alone cost 11,8 billion Dollars.

With the air crackling in ecstasy due to the acquisitions, Messier had an easy time covering up that all the deals were everything but profitable. Hence the even bigger surprise, when Vivendi Universal made a loss of 13,6 billion Euro in the business year of 2001, the highest loss in the history of French economy. When Messier blamed nothing but a simple irregularity in the business report for the recent developments, the public opinion turned for the worse. The public had enough of its not particularly modest former favourite, who had the irritating tendency to call himself 'J6M' (one J, six M's) - Jean-Marie Messier moi-même maître du monde – I, Jean-Marie-Messier, ruler of the world. Several more months full of new revelations, business tricks and mishaps in company communication and a steadily decreasing share price finally led to Messier's downfall. He had to resign in July 2002 due to pressure by the board of directors.

At that time, Vivdeni was groaning under a debt of 35 billion Euros. With another loss of 23,3 billion Euros, the company surpassed the minus record from the previous year considerably. After the flamboyant Messier's departure, Jean- René Fourtou was made the new Président-Directeur général in 2002 and started the renovation. Within a short time, he sold off large parts of the company in order to escape the weight of the debt. While Messier merely pushed off the spirits division, Fourtou parted with many more business fields in his day, many of which were once considered core activities of the company. Thus, the BSkyB shares were sold to Echostar, followed by the satellite bouquets in Italy, Benelux and Scandinavia, the hardware division of Canal+, almost all shares of the Veolia environmental division, the telecom activities in Moncao, Kenya, Egypt, Hungary and Poland, the UCI cinema chain as well a shares of the sports licensing agency SportFive. All in all, activities worth 24 Billion Euro in revenues were sold and Fourtou only made two acquisitions in the telecommunication business in the same time period. The company increased its shares of telecom provider SFR-Cegetel to 26 percent for four billion Euros. In January 2005, Vivendi Universal increased its shares in Maroc Telecom to 51 percent.

The final step in the sanitation process came in 2004, when Vivendi Universal Entertainment was outsourced into a joint venture with the General-Electric subsidiary NBC. The company held on to 20 percent of thereby created conglomerate NBC Universal – a sheer investment without any control. In December 2009, after months of negotiations, Vivendi sold the NBC Universal shares to General Electric for 5,8 billion Euros. NBC on the other hand was worked into a joint venture under the leadership of Comcast as a result of a 30 billion Dollar mega-deal.

Ever since withdrawing from the board of directors in 2005, Fourtou has been working  together with his successor Bernard Lévy on a very close basis. The duo set quite a few examples. The creation of NBC Universal, the removal of Universal from the company name and the withdrawal from the NY stock market in August 2006 constituted the definite and final stroke under the era of Messier, whose daredevil shopping trip almost resulted in the whole company collapsing. 



Jean-René Fourtou (born in 1939) took over the Vivendi leadership from its failed successor Messier in July 2002. Fourtou was considered a confidant of president Chirac as well as a renovator. Prior to his appointment, he combined the almost bankrupt company Rhone-Poulenc with Hoechst to become Aventis. The circumstance that the former manager of a pharmacy company was supposed to be the man to provide a radical treatment for Vivendi Universal was an indication of times to come. Fourtou's harsh but necessarily renovation measures fulfilled the expectations that had been set in him.
In May 2005, Fourtou – a connoisseur of Bordeaux-Wine – withdrew into the board of directors. The long-standing number two in the company, Jean-Bernard  Lévy became the new CEO. The 55-year old initially worked in public administration, including as a counsellor to the industry minister Gérard Longuet. He became acquainted with the Compagnie Générale des Eaux, when he approved a private telephone license for the provider, thus laying down the cornerstone for the most successful part of the company as it stands today.  Lévy, a father of four kids is known to be polite and discrete but also a bit bland, another distinct difference to the Messier era. The close relationship to Fourtou – both have been working together for years, including the NBC Universal Fusion – helped him asserting himself in the face of other strong internal candidates such as the Canal+ CEO Betrand Meheut.

Business fields


The Universal Music Group (UMG)  is the biggest music company in the world with a market share of 25%. Even in 2009, the revenue of the Vivendi music division is decreasing (from 4,65 billion Euro in 2008 by 6% to 4,36 billion Euro), not a big surprise considering the long-lasting bad conditions on the music market. The most successful acts of 2009 and names that are worth mentioning in the company business report were:  Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber as well as Ich + Ich and Rammstein in Germany.

With the acquisition of BMG Music Publishing (Bertelsmann-Music Publishing division) for 1,63 billion Euros, Vivendi landed a master-stroke in September 2006. By taking over the BMG catalogue, comprised of approximately 1 million song titles, UMG became the world's largest music publisher as well (Artists:  Justin Timberlake, Coldplay, Christina Aguilera, Puccini, Ravel). Furthermore, it became known that Vivendi would buy the independent record label Sanctuary Records for about 66 million Euros in June 2007. The result of which were some new entries to the Vivendi portfolio such as  David Bowie, Elton John, Morrissey, Bob Marley, Deep Purple, the Scorpions, Joe Cocker and the Sex Pistols.

Naturally, UMG is also active in digital distribution channels (online and mobile, music and video). The launch of music video and entertainment website Vevo in December 2009 should also be mentioned. Vevo is operated by the music majors UMG, Sony Music Entertainment and EMI, but is not available outside the USA and Canada for now.

Pay-TV channel Canal+ is the core of the TV division. Canal+ was founded in 1984 and awarded one out of six available terrestrial frequencies due to the initiative of Mitterand.  By the end of 2009, the Canal+ group sported a total of 10,8 million subscribers and operates branches in Poland (Cyfra+), Africa and Vietnam (Canal Overseas), as well as the program bouquet Canalsat (former CanalSatellite).
The Canal+ group merged with the competitor TPS in February of 2006. That ended the ruinous competition between the two satellite providers TPS and CanalSatellite. The success of the digital terrestrial television and the increasingly popular ADSL-TV-packages probably spurred on the agreement. Vivendi is indirectly involved in one of these digital TV provider with Neuf Cegetel. With combined forces, they want to face their new competitors. Initially, Vivdeni held 65% of the newly formed Canal+ France, while the former TPS-owners were only holding 9,9% (TF1) and 5,1% (M6).

In late November 2009, it became known that Vivendi would take over the TF1 share for 744 million Euros and the 5,1% share of the RTL subsidiary M6 also changed hands on the 6th of February 2010 (Price: 384,2 million Euro). Now, Vivendi holds 80% of Canal+ France. The remaining 20% owned by publishing giant Lagardère ( Lagardère in the media database) have been for sale since March 2006. Vivendi, which should be the logical choice when it comes to finding a buyer, is quite interested but could not agree on a price with Lagardère. Lagardère plans to bring its 20% to the stock market in spring 2011.

Last but not least, the 100% subsidiary StudioCanal is one of the leading European forces in the film production and distribution with a film library of more than 5.000 titles.

Mobile phone and landline services
Yet, the company's cash cow is the mobile service subsidiary SFR (Vivendi holds 56% of the shares. The remaining shares are held by the British Vodafone Group), the second largest telecommunication provider in France, which generated almost half of the operative profit in 2009. The Moroccan telephone business also generates good revenues. In the previous year, Maroc Telecom (53%) made an operative profit of 1.224 million Euros, first and foremost by means of its 15 million mobile service customers. Maroc Telecom holds 51% of the formerly public phone companies in Mauritius, Burkina Faso, Gabon and Mali respectively. In mid-November 2009, Vivendi took over the Brazilian Telecom company GVT (100%) for 1,6 billion Euro. An “acquisition in emerging markets, to ensure future growth”. Says Lévy.

On the 4th of July 2008, the smallest company unit Vivendi Games merged with US game developer Activision. Operating under the name Activision Blizzard (Vivendi share: 57%), the company is now one of the largest and most profitable developers of online- and console based entertainment software in the world, with a revenue of three billion Euros in 2009. Listed on the Nasdaq and based in Santa Monica, California, Activision is responsible for such game smash-hits such as „World of Warcraft“, „Guitar Hero“ and „Call of Duty“.