To Americans long accustomed to French carping about the U.S. being a hyperpower, cultural imperialist, uncaring market capitalist, globalization fanatic, or whatever the criticism du jour, the takeover of Seagram Co. by Vivendi is sweet irony. Here is a French company swooping down on Hollywood, using its rich stock to take control of film and music titles beloved by Americans and busting the rest of the company up to sell off assets, all for the sake of creating an Internet-based, vertically integrated, global media conglomerate. Whew. It's so quintessentially, well, American.
Of course, there is one difference between the Americans and French. Not a peep has been heard in protest against the French takeover in the U.S. (or Montreal, where Seagram is titularly based). Imagine if the roles were reversed and the uproar that would occur in France if an American company tried to take over, say, upscale marketer LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton. Alas, even as France begins to wheel and deal in the high-tech, global economy, statism and the quaint notion of national corporate champions still dominates government policy.
Vivendi and Seagram mirror one another in a most peculiar way. Seagram, of course, began with booze and, of late, shifted into movies and music while retaining its liquid assets. Vivendi, for its part, began as a water utility, and, of late, has moved into media, telecom, cell phones, and the Net. It, too, has retained its liquid assets. Both companies are therefore an amalgamation of Old and New Economy businesses that really don't fit together. But the goal is to shake and bake the assets and come up with an international player that combines both media content and distribution. Think movies and music pouring through the Net to your mobile cell, your Palm, your digital TV, or even your old trusty personal computer. It's the business model of media these days and it may even prove to be profitable in the long run. Who knows? The America Online-Time Warner merger is based on a like vision.
We hope that the Vivendi deal and a few more French successes in Internet commerce soften France's rampant anti-Americanism. France is being too modest in equating the Internet Age with Americanism. After all, France is generating its own Silicon Alley--Paris' Sentier District is abuzz with e-commerce and all kinds of Internet startups. France invented one of the first forms of the Internet, the Minitel. And French companies are among the leaders in wireless, a technology in which Europe is ahead of America. Finally, we would remind our French friends that the word "entrepreneur," much beloved in America, is really French. Encore, s'il vous plait.