Mediaset says ready to seek end to Vivendi spat after merger plan blocked

MILAN (Reuters) - Italy's top commercial broadcaster Mediaset MS.MI said on Wednesday it was ready to start talks with its second largest investor Vivendi VIV.PA after it dropped plans for a pan-European broadcasting platform which the French group opposed.

FILE PHOTO: The Mediaset tower is seen in Milan February 25, 2011. REUTERS/Paolo Bona/File Photo

Over the last four years Mediaset, which is controlled by the family of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, has been embroiled in a legal battle with the French media group which stemmed from a failed pay-TV sale.

The row intensified last year when Mediaset approved a plan to merge its Italian and Spanish businesses TL5.MC under a Dutch holding company it wants to use to build alliances with peers in Europe.

But opposition from Vivendi, which said the governance structure of the new entity would strengthen the Berlusconis’ grip over the group, led to the project being suspended by a Madrid court last year.

On Wednesday, Mediaset said it had dropped the plan after the Madrid court last month rejected a bid to have the suspension lifted, saying the ruling made it impossible to complete the project in the time available.

But Mediaset said the plan remained valid and it was looking at alternative options.

Vivendi wrote to Mediaset following last month’s court ruling, saying it was ready to support the Italian broadcaster in its cross-border growth strategy, provided it included a governance structure to protect minority shareholders.

Mediaset, whose board met on Wednesday to discuss the letter, said Vivendi’s offer was not satisfactory.

But it said it was open to starting talks with the French group over international growth plans creating value for all the group shareholders, including majority investors.

A source close to the matter said Mediaset’s board had invited Vivendi to submit concrete proposals to boost the business abroad, as part of a wider settlement.

The row between the two companies started after Vivendi pulled out of a deal to buy Mediaset’s pay-TV business in 2016, instead building up a 29% stake in Mediaset which the Italian group considered hostile.

A legal case has been ongoing ever since, while attempts to clinch a wider settlement have so far proven unsuccessful.

Editing by Alison Williams