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Vivendi Universal Head Plans for Global Reach - 2002-01-11


Some in France have accused the French chairman of the media giant Vivendi Universal of selling out to Hollywood and abandoning French culture. The executive denies it, but he told a Hollywood audience about his plans to make his company truly universal.

Jean-Marie Messier drew some intense criticism at home with a recent suggestion that the French government stop subsidizing French-language films. Vivendi is a major media force in France, and with the company's acquisition of Universal, a company known its movie blockbusters like the "Jurassic Park" series, some of his countrymen worried that Mr. Messier had "gone Hollywood."

One right-wing politician went as far as accusing him of betraying his country. Mr. Messier says the criticism is misplaced and his remarks were taken out of context. He says entertainment is now a global industry, but that producers of entertainment must respond to cultural differences as they market their products.

Vivendi Universal is the world's number two media company, after AOL Time Warner. It was formed just over one year ago with the merger of the Vivendi, a company that began treating wastewater products, and the Canadian liquor company Seagrams, which owned the U.S. based Universal Studios and Universal Music Group. Vivendi Universal last month expanded its media holdings by acquiring the entertainment assets of the USA cable network and buying a stake in EchoStar, a television satellite distribution company.

Mr. Messier said new digital technologies give Vivendi Universal a global reach, but the company is customizing its products to the needs of its customers with targeted marketing. "We are strong in key technologies of the digital age," he said. "And for us those key technologies are, on top of the Internet, pay-TV, digital TV, and wireless technology."

In France, said the media executive, Vivendi Universal uses wireless telephone to deliver music to subscribers. He said teenagers and young adults love the service. "They receive a lot of free information by short message on their preferred genre, their preferred artist. They get informed when there is a new release," he said.

And, says Mr. Messier, subscribers can download music tracks over the Internet before their official release date, at a cost of about 70 cents per track. In addition, subscribers are notified by email when their favorite artist comes to their city and are offered reserved seats at local concerts, for a fee, of course, with the click of a computer mouse.

Mr. Messier, who last year moved his family from Paris to his new home in New York, addressed 600 business leaders in Los Angeles Thursday. They included representatives of Hollywood's major media companies.

The executive said one cloud on the horizon threatens them all, piracy of entertainment products, which costs the industry millions of dollars each year. Mr. Messier said he learned last year that his own 10-year-old son was downloading pirated music from a music-sharing Internet service like Napster. He said he did not approve, but understands. He says Vivendi Universal realizes that consumers demand the ability to create their own music compilations. So the Universal Music Group is combatting piracy through new technology, and also offering music downloads over the Internet to its subscribers.

Mr. Messier said his company has a global reach, which he said is appropriate for a digital age.

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