Vivendi muscles its way on to the BSkyB board

VIVENDI, THE French conglomerate, ensured yesterday that its voice will be heard directly on BSkyB's board, exercising its right to appoint a non-executive director to the pay-TV company.

VIVENDI, THE French conglomerate, ensured yesterday that its voice will be heard directly on BSkyB's board, exercising its right to appoint a non-executive director to the pay-TV company.

The second-largest shareholder in BSkyB behind Rupert Murdoch's News Corp nominated Eric Licoys, its chief operating officer, who will join the board immediately.

Vivendi, which owns 49 per cent of French pay-TV station Canal Plus, has recently expanded its stake in British broadcaster, boosting speculation the pair could eventually merge.

A union was discussed - and abandoned - last year. Last week, Jean-Marie Messier, Vivendi's chairman, said the two companies should enhance their co-operation.

Vivendi holds about 24 per cent of BSkyB, split between a 12 per cent direct holding and an 11.8 per cent holding through BSB Holdings. Yesterday's appointment came via BSB, a holding company previously held by media companies Pathé, Granada and Pearson. Vivendi took over Pathé earlier this year, and the other two companies sold their BSB stakes to Vivendi. "BSkyB believes that Vivendi does not have the right to appoint another director," a spokesman for BSkyB said yesterday.

Two ex-Pathé board positions would not pass to Vivendi as they relate only to founding shareholders, such as Pathé, not to companies that have bought their stakes, a spokesman said.

News Corp holds 40 per cent of BSkyB and has five board directors.BSkyB also said yesterday it was not seeking a replacement for Bruce Steinberg, the general manager of Sky networks who resigned last Tuesday, saying that his task of rebranding the movie channels had largely been completed.

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