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Why GE Needs Vivendi

By Rick Aristotle Munarriz (TMF Edible)
August 26, 2003
Like so many gentlemen callers realizing that the diva they're courting has an inflated self-worth, media giants are bowing out of the bidding for the hand of Vivendi's (NYSE: V) entertainment properties. Liberty Media (NYSE: LMCB) is reportedly the latest, which has General Electric (NYSE: GE) looking more and more like the mail-order groom by default in this debt-strapped shotgun wedding.

Others, such as MGM (NYSE: MGM) and Viacom (NYSE: VIA), bowed out early. Still other such notables as Disney (NYSE: DIS), AOL Time Warner (NYSE: AOL), and Sony (NYSE: SNE) never even bothered to fill out their dance cards.

Hearsay has plagued Vivendi's kissing booth all along. It publicly rebuffed companies for bidding too low, and it spooked away others with its reluctance to answer financial questions. Yet as desperate as Vivendi might appear, you can't even begin to fathom how hard up GE is for entertainment.

Yes, the same GE that is an annual contender for the title of the world's largest conglomerate is pretty skimpy when it comes to leisure. Beyond NBC, GE is starving for the same kind of media integration of its television network peers. CBS has Viacom's collection of properties, including Nickelodeon and Paramount Studios, while ABC is Disney's set-top mousetrap.

Ex-Universal chief Edgar Bronfman Jr. is also making a play to reclaim the lost love after the company's merger with Vivendi. But for Bronfman, reacquiring Universal would only provide closure.

For GE, it's more than that. It's about completing a puzzle that the rest of its rivals have already figured out. There's a huge entertainment empire bleeding to death.

Fancy that, GE brings good things to life.

Will Vivendi be a Major Pain to General Electric? Should the company make the move to diversify further into entertainment offerings, or is its portfolio already too wide?
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