* Bollore appointed board chairman on Tuesday
* Sets out aim for an integrated media company
* Vivendi's three units are in music, Brazil telco, pay-TV
* Future dividend payout ratio seen at 40-50 pct - Bollore
(Adds Bollore and analyst comments, detail, background, shares)
By Leila Abboud and Gwénaëlle Barzic
PARIS, June 24 Billionaire French businessman
Vincent Bollore gave the first hints of his strategy for Vivendi
as he took over as chairman on Tuesday, saying he saw
the potential to grow its media assets while also paying a
Vivendi, one of France's biggest companies, has sold off
three businesses, including telecoms operator SFR, in a two-year
overhaul aimed at cutting debts and reviving its share price.
Bollore, who with a 5 percent stake is its biggest
shareholder, will be the key decision maker as the company seeks
to forge a coherent whole out of its three remaining businesses
and starts to look for growth opportunities.
Vivendi now owns the world's biggest record label, Universal
Music Group, France's biggest pay-television operator, Canal
Plus, and Brazilian broadband specialist GVT.
"Vivendi's strategy is now clearly fixed," Bollore told an
annual shareholder meeting in his first public remarks on the
company since he became vice-chairman last year.
"It is to transform the company from a financial holding to
an integrated company focused on content".
Despite his influence, the 62-year old tycoon - famed for
building a family owned transport business in Africa and raiding
blue-chip companies - has so far said very little about where he
wants to take Vivendi. That has left investors and analysts
guessing whether his intentions are to sell off more of the
group, or seek to build something from its current portfolio.
One thing is sure, Vivendi is expected to hit the
acquisition trail late this year and next to seek growth. People
familiar with the situation have told Reuters it has up to 10
billion euros ($14 billion) to remake itself in media depending
on how much debt it is willing to take on.
Vivendi is expected to weigh acquisitions in different areas
from Canal Plus and Universal Music Group, which are already too
big in their respective markets to expand further, they said.
However, they did not rule out that Canal Plus could also
seek to expand its geographic footprint - which is now France,
Poland Vietnam, and some African countries - to offset slowing
growth in its domestic market.
Regardless of deals, Vivendi has pledged to keep its current
BBB debt rating from Fitch and Standard & Poor's, and its Baa2
GROWTH AND DIVIDENDS
In terms of shareholder returns, Bollore said Vivendi could
in future pay out about 40-50 percent of earnings in dividends.
"The board will decide the dividend policy based on what
opportunities are available," he said, referring to
acquisitions. "But in a growing business - and we think our
media activities will grow - it seems reasonable to distribute
40 to 50 percent."
Vivendi has recently paid out about 40-50 percent of
adjusted net earnings as dividends, while also noting a trend in
the media sector of moving towards a 30-40 percent payout ratio.
Bollore did not say anything about what acquisitions Vivendi
should target. But he did say the group could squeeze more value
and cost savings out of its three business lines by making them
work together, something which has eluded Vivendi in the past
decade despite repeated attempts.
"In reality there is hidden value at Vivendi," said Bollore.
"There are more synergies between the three business units than
Vivendi has been able to exploit in the past."
He gave as an example how Brazilian telco GVT could be used
to sell more television content from Canal Plus. GVT has used
Canal Plus' expertise to win some 700,000 pay-TV customers only
one year after launching the service.
Bernstein analyst Claudio Aspesi expressed scepticism that
Vivendi's diverse businesses had much in common. "Investors
would probably prefer not to hear a re-run of the old script -
Vivendi saying it is looking for synergies - it's a bit like a
horror movie," he said before the shareholder meeting.
"In the past, the management has tried to demonstrate value
of holding assets together, but operating synergies were never
Vivendi shares were up 0.5 percent at 1420 GMT in a flat
European market. Shares that were trading at 12 euros
when the firm's overhaul started two years ago have settled at
around 19 euros after hitting 21 euros in February, the highest
level in three years.
In addition to Bollore's debut, the shareholder meeting was
a victory lap for veteran chairman Jean-Rene Fourtou, who saved
Vivendi from bankruptcy in 2002 and piloted the past two years
of strategic overhaul.
Bollore thanked Fourtou for bringing him to Vivendi and said
he would nominate Fourtou as honorary board president.
"I think this young man still has a lot to give," Bollore
said of 75-year-old Fourtou.
Bollore arrived as a Vivendi shareholder in 2012 when he
agreed to be paid in shares for selling 60 percent of his
broadcast TV channels Direct 8 et Direct Star to Canal Plus. He
later bought additional shares on the market.
($1 = 0.7357 Euros)
(Editing by Louise Heavens and Mark Potter)