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Jul 2, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Vivendi Universal in sharp stock drop

Vivendi Universal lost more than 40 percent of its capitalized value Tuesday in Paris, and traded down sharply in early-day trading in the U.S., on speculation that the company boosted its 2001 net profit results by 1.5 billion euros through complex transactions involving its shares in BSkyB.

The company, which issued a complex explanation in response to a French newspaper report, also suffered a blow late Monday when Moody’s Investor’s Service reduced its credit rating to high junk grade, or Ba1.

Embattled Vivendi Universal Chairman and President Jean-Marie Messier, who is expected to officially step down at a board meeting Wednesday, is demanding immunity from any legal action that shareholders and others could take against the company, the paper said.

In what investors initially saw as another example of corporate accounting missteps, Vivendi Universal in October moved its 400 million shares of BSkyB off of its consolidated balance sheet to improve its results. The company said in a statement that it followed U.S. accounting rules and consulted with regulators, but that French accounting rules that applied were less clear. In an interview published in France earlier Tuesday, Mr. Messier said, “I am leaving so that Vivendi Universal stays … You cannot lead a company if the board is divided.”

Barry Diller, who is presiding over Vivendi Universal Entertainment assets while serving as chairman of his own USA Interactive, is in a position to gain several ways from the shake-up. Although a VUE spin-off eventually may come after the dust settles, the current crisis reunites Mr. Diller with Edgar Bronfman Jr., who sold Universal’s and USA Networks’s entertainment assets to Vivendi and has played an active role in Messier’s ouster. The Bronfman family had lost more than $2.5 billion on their Vivendi stake before Tuesday’s losses.

MTV unveils new shows: MTV, coming off the “Osbournes”-stoked highest-rated quarter in its history, has given the green light to six new shows, all with reality components, ranging from true crime (“Suspect: True Crime Stories”) to truly bizarre (“Crashing With …”). Here are the six shows:

— “mtvTREATMENT,” a series of specials debuting in the fourth quarter, in which would-be music-video directors submit treatments for Korn’s third single from its “Untouchable” album. The band will make its picks, then MTV will follow the shoot, from casting to world premiere.

— “artistLAUNCH,” a series of one-hour specials debuting in the fourth quarter, documenting the making of albums, from the writing to the recording to the meetings with music-label suits.

— “FM Nation,” eight episodes debuting in the fourth quarter, in which the network’s cameras go along for Saturday night drives with three groups of young people, riding around town with radios blaring, looking for fun and action. Local radio-station DJs will narrate.

— “Crashing With …,” a series of specials premiering in the third quarter, in which bands and musicians on tour spend a night with the locals. The July 18 debut drops Master P and Lil’ Romeo into the Quackenbush family’s home in Shreveport, La.

— “Made,” six episodes debuting in the third quarter, in which some real person gets a “full life makeover” courtesy of MTV.

— “Suspect: True Crime Stories,” six to eight episodes premiering in the fourth quarter, in which MTV’s own forensic experts solve viewers’ mysteries, from disappearing girlfriends to disappearing food in the fridge.

“At its core, this new roster of shows is essentially about music and reflecting what life is like for many young adults today,” said Brian Graden, president of entertainment for MTV and VH1, who announced the new slate.