Vivendi asks for seats on BSkyB board

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THE BOARDROOM of BSkyB seems set to become a tenser place after Vivendi, the French utility that is to inherit a 17 per cent stake, said yesterday that it wants to appoint two directors.

Jean-Marier Messier, chief executive of Vivendi, said the company does not intend to be a "passive minority shareholder". He added: "There is no reason why Vivendi should not have two seats on the board of BSkyB." Concern about Vivendi's motive towards BSkyB saw Rupert Murdoch, who owns a 40 per cent stake, become chairman of the satellite broadcaster last month. Mr Messier, for his part, has developed a reputation as a skilful corporate predator.

Vivendi acquired its stake in BSkyB through the recent friendly takeover of Pathe, which controls French pay-TV operator Canal Plus. Early this year, BSkyB and Canal Plus held merger talks which foundered when it became apparent that neither group was prepared to cede management control.

On Thursday, Mr Murdoch ruled out for the foreseeable future any linkup of the pay-TV groups, but acknowledged that the companies could work together on sports rights and other programme content issues, as well as Internet matters.

Both Mr Murdoch and Mr Messier have set up separate Internet investment fund ventures with Japan's Softbank. News Corp will partner Softbank in the UK, New Zealand, Australia and India, while Vivendi will partner the Internet and software firm in continental Europe.

The News Corp chief seemed eager to partner Softbank exclusively in both the UK and Europe. "It was his decision, not mine," Mr Murdoch said, referring to Masayoshi Son, the Softbank chief executive. "I would have handled the whole thing."

But he was careful not to offend the firm that will become the second largest BSkyB shareholder. "That doesn't worry me at all," he said of the French firm's deal with Softbank. "I have a great admiration for Vivendi and Mr Messier."

A spokesman for Vivendi said the group wouldn't press its claim to the BSkyB board seats until the takeover of Pathe by Vivendi is approved by shareholders in September. BSkyB's subsequent board meeting would occur in October.

Privately, BSkyB was perplexed by Mr Messier's intervention since Pathe has two non-executive directors - Jerome Seydoux and Michael Crepon - already on the UK company's board. A Vivendi spokesman was equally unable to shed light on the remarks. "That's Mr Messier's view and I cannot say more," he said.

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