Mediaset, Vivendi head to court after talks to end three-year dispute fail

MILAN/PARIS (Reuters) – Italian broadcaster Mediaset (MS.MI) and French media group Vivendi (VIV.PA) headed to court on Friday after overnight talks to end their three-year legal dispute failed to reach an agreement, sources close to the matter said.

FILE PHOTO: The Vivendi logo is pictured in Paris, March 10, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/File Photo

Mediaset is backed by the family of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi while its shareholder Vivendi (VIV.PA) is led by Vincent Bollore, in what has become a battle between billionaires over the future of European TV.

The two groups, locked in a whole series of legal arguments, have clashed over the Italian group’s plans to create a pan-European TV champion through Dutch-based holding MediaForEurope (MFE).

Mediaset aims to use the MFE platform to build TV alliances in Europe to help compete with streaming services such as Netflix (NFLX.O) and web giants like Google (GOOGL.O).

Vivendi says governance plans at MFE would give Berlusconi too much power and hurt minority shareholders.

A deal between the two sides would free Mediaset’s hand to press ahead with merging its Italian and Spanish units.

A Milan judge earlier this month gave the companies until Nov. 29 to settle their disagreements over MFE after earlier attempts to reach an accord failed.

DIFFERENCES

In recent weeks the two sides have been holding talks to try to find a way to settle not just the MFE case but all their outstanding issues.

The court hearing, originally set for 1130 GMT, was delayed until 1430 GMT, but no agreement could be reached.

According to sources, a deal being worked on between the two could see Vivendi sell around two thirds of its 29% stake in Mediaset to MFE but differences over price and other terms have held things up.

As the two companies have failed to reach an agreement, the court could now rule on a request from Vivendi to suspend the MFE operation.

Mediaset and Vivendi have been embroiled in a protracted dispute since a failed pay TV deal in 2016.

Vivendi, which is also looking to create a southern European media powerhouse, is the top shareholder in Italian phone incumbent Telecom Italia (TLIT.MI).

Reporting by Elvira Pollina in Milan and Gwenaelle Barzic in Paris; writing by Stephen Jewkes; editing by Jason Neely, Kirsten Donovan

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