Vivendi declined to say on Monday what it planned to do with its 20 percent holding in U.S. media and entertainment group NBC Universal amid mounting speculation that it could decide to unload the stake this year.
The New York Times said on Friday that Vivendi, which recently made a $2.9 billion offer for Brazil's GVT Holdings, appeared likely to sell its stake in General Electric's NBC Universal this year.
This could in turn pave the way for a possible initial public offering, the paper said.
Vivendi Chief Executive Jean-Bernard Levy last week described the stake in NBC Universal as noncore, but said the company had not decided whether to exercise its option and will not announce its decision until November.
Vivendi has no comment to add to what Mr. Levy has said, a spokeswoman for Europe's largest entertainment group said.
A GE spokeswoman declined to comment on what Vivendi might do, but said the largest U.S. conglomerate would have several options available to it if the French company chose to sell.
Vivendi has an annual option, exercisable later this year, to sell its take in NBCU in the public market, said GE spokeswoman Anne Eisele. If Vivendi determines to exercise its option, GE has several options, including bringing a new partner into NBC, proceeding with an IPO or buying Vivendi's stake.
If Vivendi decides to sell its stake in NBC Universal, a company the Times said Wall Street valued at up to $35 billion, it would be this year's biggest media deal.
NBC Universal, which owns Universal Pictures and the NBC television network, was created in 2004 by the merger of Vivendi Universal Entertainment and NBC businesses.
Under the deal, Vivendi has the right each year from November 15 to December 10 up until 2016 to sell its stake to GE or to sell it as part of an initial public offering.
A decision to sell would trigger a provision allowing GE, which owns 80 percent of NBCU, to buy out Vivendi.
CANAL PLUS MINORITIES
Each autumn, the situation unleashes speculation about Vivendi's plans.
Disposal is just a matter of time, Credit Suisse analysts said in a research note on Monday. We think November 2010 rather than 2009 is more likely (media stocks should be well into the upturn by then), unless another opportunistic deal came along which necessitated an earlier disposal.
But Oddo Securities, which values Vivendi's stake in NBCU at 3.8 billion euros, said in a note: Vivendi's exit of NBCU is quite likely this year, given the prospect of buying out minority shareholders in Canal Plus in early 2010.
One element of Vivendi's capital allocation strategy -- which the group reiterated at a Goldman Sachs conference last week -- is to seek to buy its minorities at the right time when opportunities arise.
Vivendi, which owns 65 percent of Canal Plus France, has said it would buy the combined 15 percent stake that France's TF1 and M6 still have in Canal if they decide to exercise their put option next year.
Media group Lagardere said in May it was likely to sell its 20 percent in Canal Plus but was ready to first increase that holding to 35 percent in order to find a buyer.
GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt has repeatedly stated the company has no plans to sell its 80 percent stake in NBC Universal.
Vivendi shares were off 0.055 euro at 20.585 euros in Paris, while GE fell 11 cents to $16.39 in trading before U.S. markets opened.
(Reporting by Dominique Vidalon, additional reporting by Scott Malone in Boston; Editing by Hans Peters, Jon Loades-Carter and Lisa Von Ahn)