Long queue of bidders for Vivendi auction

As the nominal deadline for bidding on Vivendi Universal's entertainment assets passed yesterday, at least five media groups - including MGM and General Electric, the parent company of NBC - were believed to be in the running, with a sixth, Viacom, waiting in the wings for a possible slice of the action further down the line.

Hollywood's most alluring, and bizarre, garage sale in years - the assets include Universal Studios, the Universal Music Group, various cable stations and a theme park empire - was showing every sign of being a complex affair likely to drag out for several weeks, if not months.

Although the bidding process has not been made public, statements from would-be participants and confidential sources within Vivendi Universal suggest the following list of interested parties: Marvin Davis, the Los Angeles oil billionaire who bid $15bn for Vivendi Universal Entertainment (VUE) as early as last autumn; Edgar Bronfman, Jr, the man who sold Universal to Vivendi in the first place and is now assembling financing to get it back; Liberty Media, John Malone's group, which has indicated an interest in teaming up with another buyer; MGM, the weakest of the Hollywood studios which does not currently have a music or theme park division; and General Electric, seen as something of a long shot.

Viacom, which owns Paramount Studios, MTV and Blockbuster video, among other assets, is not believed to be in the first round of bidding, but has previously expressed an interest in buying VUE's Sci-Fi cable television channel.

Vivendi is anxious to get out of the Hollywood game to help fill its gaping debt hole.The company is expected to consider all the bids early next month, and would ideally like to pick a winner by the end of July.

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