Scrutiny of Vivendi's SFR takeover could take nine months - regulator

PARIS, March 8 Sat Mar 8, 2014 7:45am EST

PARIS, March 8 (Reuters) - France's competition watchdog estimates it could take nine months to scrutinise a possible takeover of French telecoms operator SFR by French conglomerate Bouygues or rival Numericable, its head said in an interview published on Saturday.

Bouygues, with interests from telecoms to construction, on Thursday offered 10.5 billion euros ($14.4 billion) in cash for 46 percent of Vivendi's SFR.

A competing bid from French cable operator Numericable included 11 billion euros in cash, granting Vivendi a 32 percent stake in the new company, sources said earlier.

A tie-up between SFR and Bouygues would create Europe's seventh-biggest telecoms group by sales. In France, it would rank ahead of current market leader Orange in terms of market share.

The competition watchdog said a deep investigation of the potential tie-up was "most likely" in light of the complexity of the issues it raised.

"If a deep inquiry is launched, it could take around nine months of investigation before reaching a final decision," Bruno Lasserre, head of the competition authority, told Le Figaro newspaper.

Lasserre said the antitrust review would look into what impact the possible deal could have on market prices and market players' incentives to invest and innovate, as well as the impact on the media market.

He noted that Vivendi, which controls pay-TV operator Canal Plus, could retain influence over an entity belonging to Bouygues which controls French broadcaster TF1.

Similarly, Vivendi could influence commercial decisions taken by a new company controlled by Numericable, which could raise questions about the competitiveness of the French pay-TV market. (Reporting by Astrid Wendlandt; Editing by Rosalind Russell)

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