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Hollywood awaits sequel to Japanese

Hollywood was last night bracing for an announcement that has been anticipated with all the excitement of a sequel to Gone With the Wind - news that MCA, which owns Universal Pictures, is no longer controlled by the Japanese electronics giant Matsushita but by a Canadian drinks company.

Late yesterday, final details were reportedly being ironed out in Matsushita's sale of 80 per cent of MCA to Seagram Co, amid expectations that the deal would go through without glitches - although there were reports that the price could be significantly lower than earlier estimates exceeding $7bn (£4.3bn).

According to the Los Angeles Times, which quoted sources saying it was a "done deal", the figure will be around $5.6bn, which would mean an even greater loss for the Japanese corporation. The $7bn price tag sets the value of the entertainment conglomerate at not much more than the $6.6bn that Matsushita paid for MCA in 1991. Since then the yen has strengthened so sharply against the dollar that Matsushita would need to get more than $10bn just to get back its original investment.

Edgar Bronfman Jr, Seagram's 39-year-old chief executive who has long harboured an ambition to break into show business, was yesterday expected in Los Angeles for the formal announcement of the sale. It was widely rumoured that he would soon meet with the heads of MCA, Lew Wasserman and Sidney Sheinberg, who are known to be angry that they were left out of the negotiations. If they leave, MCA's lucrative relationship with Steven Spielberg, who is setting up an entertainment conglomerate of his own, could also end.

The relationship between Matsushita and MCA was difficult from early on. The Japanese never fully understood the commercially unpredictable ways of Hollywood, and MCA management complained bitterly about their reluctance to invest in new acquisitions.