Mediaset aims for European expansion with Vivendi's backing

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A Vivendi sign is seen at the company's headquarters in Paris, France, April 8, 2015. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes/File Photo

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MILAN, April 27 (Reuters) - Italy's top commercial broadcaster Mediaset (MS.MI) is committed to European expansion to fend off competition and hopes to win the backing of all its investors, including France's Vivendi (VIV.PA), it said on Tuesday.

The group controlled by the family of former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on Monday unveiled fresh plans to move its legal base to the Netherlands, having been forced to shelve a similar project last year after opposition from Vivendi.

Milanese TV group Mediaset has long viewed cross-border alliances as the answer to the threat posed by rivals such as streaming services Netfix (NFLX.O) and Amazon Prime Video (AMZN.O).

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"We believe cross-country consolidation is more achievable than in-country," Mediaset finance chief Marco Giordani told analysts, adding that the rationale behind the planned Netherlands move is to create a "pan-Europan content and entertainment group" covering a variety of national broadcasters but with a neutral base.

Vivendi's opposition to the previous relocation plan had been waged in courts across Europe, with its hand strengthened by judicial rulings including two court decisions late last year that restored full voting rights on its Mediaset stake.

The French group is Mediaset's second-biggest investor with a 29% holding and the two have been locked in a bitter legal dispute since a failed pay-TV deal in 2016.

However, Vivendi's backing is now essential for Mediaset to push through extraordinary resolutions such as the new legal base, which will be put to a shareholder vote on June 23.

In an apparent olive branch offered to Vivendi, Mediaset said it would ask shareholders on May 27 to scrap a loyalty share scheme that strengthens the Berlusconi family's grip on the company.

In a further friendly gesture, Giordani said the latest Dutch relocation plan would not include an enhanced voting system that had been criticised by Vivendi under the previous proposal.

"We don't want to return to a situation in which we are talking more of legal issues than of industrial strategy," Giordani said. "Let's move step by step, but let's move."

Two people close to the matter on Monday told Reuters the groups were making fresh attempts at resolving their dispute.

Mediaset, which controls Spanish broadcaster Mediaset Espana (TL5.MC), has built a potential 23.5% stake in German media group ProSiebenSat.1 as part of its European expansion plan. (PSMGn.DE).

Giordani also confirmed that Mediaset is among suitors for Bertelsmann's (BTGGg.F) controlling stake in France's M6 (MMTP.PA), though he acknowledged that there is little hope of success in light of remarks by Bertelsmann CEO Thomas Rabe in favour of domestic consolidation.

Mediaset's bid to revive its growth plan while also seeking to appease Vivendi lifted its share price by 3% on Tuesday, compared with a slight fall for Milan's all-share index (.FTITLMS).

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Reporting by Elvira Pollina Writing by Valentina Za Editing by David Goodman

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