Photographer: ERIC PIERMONT/AFP via Getty Images

Vivendi to Lift Stake in Mediaset in Challenge to Berlusconi

  • French media company seeks up to 30% in battle for broadcaster
  • Berlusconi calls up regulators, prosecutors for defense

Vivendi SA plans to buy additional shares in Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset SpA, intensifying a battle for control of the broadcaster founded by the former Italian prime minister. Mediaset stock soared.

Vivendi’s management, with supervisory board backing, decided on Monday to lift its Mediaset stake within the threshold of 30 percent of voting rights, above which a mandatory tender offer would be triggered, and will buy shares “depending on market conditions,” the French company said in a statement.

Silvio Berlusconi, left, and Vincent Bollore

Photographer: Alessia Pierdomenico/Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg

Berlusconi, 80, is trying to keep control of the media company he set up in the 1970s, amid an unwelcome approach by Vivendi and its chairman, French billionaire Vincent Bollore. Mediaset reached its highest level since June on Dec. 14 as Vivendi and Berlusconi’s Fininvest SpA each built up their holdings.

Vivendi’s stake in Mediaset “is in line with the group’s intention to develop its activities in southern Europe and its strategic ambitions as a major international, European-based media and content group,” the Paris-based company said.

Shares of Mediaset advanced as much as 19 percent in Milan to 4.29 euros, the highest price in more than a year, and rose 18 percent at 12 p.m. Vivendi climbed 0.6 percent to 18.35 euros in Paris.

The battle between the two tycoons has escalated since last week, when Vivendi surprised Mediaset by declaring a 3 percent holding and said it could go as high as 20 percent. It crossed that level later in the week. Berlusconi has condemned the move as hostile. Fininvest has about a 40 percent voting stake.

The companies have been squabbling for months, in court and in public statements, over a botched venture that would have given Vivendi control of Mediaset’s Premium pay-TV channel and each company a stake in the other. Premium was at the center of a plan by Bollore to form a media alliance in southern Europe that could counter online players like Netflix Inc. and Amazon.com Inc.

Bollore has said Mediaset is too important to leave to the courts. It’s similar to the squeeze he’s put on previous targets, including Havas SA and Gameloft SE.

Fininvest on Monday asked Italian market regulator Consob to act in the dispute. Claims against Vivendi include market manipulation and information abuse, the Rome-based holding company said. Fininvest also said its lawyers provided Milan prosecutors with the latest documents related to the case.

The Mediaset Premium deal, valued at about 880 million euros ($936 million) when it was announced in April, collapsed in July after the French company tried to alter the agreement, lowering the value of the unit. The dispute went to court, with executives of both companies hardening their tone. The two moguls, who have been friends for decades, failed to bridge their differences.

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