Vivendi SA missed its chance for easy romance with Wall Street analysts in the weeks following its June 20 merger agreement with Seagram Co. and Canal Plus SA.
Too bad. By the time the French media and utility company was ready to talk to investors this month, their passion for Internet, telephony and media mergers had cooled considerably. There was a muted reception when Vivendi met in New York with analysts and reporters to discuss its future as the world's No. 2 media company.
After a daylong meeting, some analysts weren't persuaded by Vivendi's plan to exploit Seagram's Universal music, film and leisure holdings on wireless devices and the Internet.
"I'm fundamentally unsure whether people want to use their cell phones to listen to music," said First Union Securities analyst Scott B. Davis.
A few days after the Oct. 17 meeting, Vivendi's stock sank to its lowest price since the merger announcement. The stocks of Seagram and Canal Plus fell to post-announcement lows on Oct. 18.
It was an inauspicious start for Vivendi Universal, which said it wants to overtake the proposed combination of America Online Inc. and Time Warner Inc. as the world's most important media company once both mergers are completed.
Four months after Vivendi announced its trans-Atlantic merger with Montreal-based Seagram, analysts and journalists in North America still lack familiarity with assets and names on the far side of the ocean.
Vivendi's 50 percent-owned Vizzavi may be a heralded Internet portal in Europe, but in the U.S., it's no household name. CNBC newswoman Maria Bartiromo failed to pronounce the name correctly (VEEZ-a-VEE) when she recently interviewed Vivendi Chairman Jean-Marie Messier, and she murmured an apology.
But at least CNBC aired the interview. Vivendi's news conference in New York evoked so little interest that I could find no stories the next day in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times or the Los Angeles Times.
Without headlines, it's hard to whip up investors.
Vivendi has a related challenge in Europe, where investors are less familiar with Seagram's assets. Vivendi stretched an analysts' conference over two days in Paris earlier this month to devote more time to Seagram's music, filmed entertainment and recreation operations.
Vivendi persuaded Barry Diller, the charismatic chairman of USA Networks Inc., to make a luncheon presentation in Paris because Vivendi will be acquiring Seagram's 43 percent stake in his company. Among Diller's assets: Home Shopping Network, Ticketmaster and the cable USA Network and Sci-Fi Channel.
"We had a good impression," said Pierre Coiffet, an analyst with BNP Paribas Equities in Paris.
Diller didn't appear at the one-day gathering in New York, where he and his company are well known. His absence was noted by those U.S. investors who hope Diller might merge his company with Vivendi and take a big role at Vivendi Universal, to provide "sizzle." But there is no evidence that Diller is willing to give up control of his own company, or that he has been invited to do so.
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