Mediaset, Vivendi locked in talks as Friday deadline delayed

MILAN/PARIS (Reuters) - In a battle of billionaires, Italian broadcaster Mediaset’s expansion plans faced a showdown with shareholder Vivendi on Friday as a court deadline on reaching a deal loomed.

FILE PHOTO: The Vivendi logo is pictured at the main entrance of the entertainment-to-telecoms conglomerate headquarters in Paris, March 10, 2016. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/File Photo

Mediaset MS.MI is backed by the family of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi while Vivendi VIV.PA is led by French billionaire Vincent Bollore.

The two groups, locked in a whole series of legal arguments, have clashed over the Italian group’s plans to create a pan-European TV champion through Dutch-based holding MediaForEurope (MFE).

A Milan judge earlier this month gave the companies until Nov. 29 to settle their disagreements over MFE after attempts to reach an accord failed.

In recent weeks the two sides have been holding talks to try to find a way to settle not just the MFE case but all their outstanding issues.

A Mediaset board meeting called on Friday to examine the details of a possible deal was told talks were still ongoing ahead of the court deadline.

“They’re still not there,” one of the people said of the talks.

The court hearing, originally set for 1130 GMT, has been put back to 1430 GMT, a source said, without giving further details.

According to sources, a deal between the two could see Vivendi sell around two thirds of its 29% stake in Mediaset to MFE but differences over price and other terms have held things up.

If they cannot come up with some kind of agreement over disputed MFE bylaws, the court could rule on Friday on a request from Vivendi to suspend the MFE operation.

A deal between the two sides would free Mediaset’s hand to press ahead with merging its Italian and Spanish units.

Mediaset aims to use the MFE platform to build TV alliances in Europe to help compete with streaming services such as Netflix NFLX.O and web giants like Google GOOGL.O.

Vivendi says governance plans at MFE would give Berlusconi too much power and hurt minority shareholders.

Mediaset and Vivendi have been embroiled in a protracted dispute since a failed pay TV deal in 2016.

Vivendi, which is also looking to create a southern European media powerhouse, is the top shareholder in Italian phone incumbent Telecom Italia TLIT.MI.

Reporting by Elvira Pollina in Milan and Gwenaelle Barzic in Paris; writing by Stephen Jewkes; editing by Jason Neely