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Chronology of Vivendi, NBC merger

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LONDON, England (Reuters) -- U.S. television network NBC's deal to take over Vivendi Universal's show business assets ends months of agonizing over the French conglomerate's Hollywood future and is a key step in efforts to slash debt built up during a disastrous expansion.

The company, founded by imperial decree 150 years ago as a public water business, continued as a utility until the late 1990s, when former Chairman Jean-Marie Messier launched a campaign to transform it into a media and telecoms empire.

Following are some of the major events in the company's history since:


March 5 - Vivendi announces loss of 13.6 billion euros for 2001, the largest loss in French corporate history, due to massive goodwill writedowns mainly on the acquisition of the Seagram film and television assets from the Bronfman family.

Messier tells investors he had not destroyed shareholder value because the acquisitions were mainly made with stock.

April 16 - Messier announces the firing of popular Canal Plus Chairman Pierre Lescure. Politicians and Hollywood celebrities condemn the move, and Canal Plus employees take over their station and ridicule Messier on live TV.

April 24 - At Vivendi Universal's annual meeting, Messier is heckled by angry investors but gets a vote of confidence from the board. Bowing to political pressure, he says the partial sale of Vivendi's stake in Vivendi Environnement is not on the agenda.

May 3-7 - Ratings agencies Moody's and Standard & Poor's cut Vivendi's debt ratings, citing the company's debt levels, off balance sheet liabilities and uncertainty over the timing of asset sales. The company's stock sinks to 4-1/2 year lows.

May 29 - In a blow to Messier, Vivendi Universal's board decides to establish a corporate governance committee to monitor the implementation of company strategy.

June 17 - Under pressure to cut debt, Vivendi unveils a plan to reduce its 63 percent stake in Vivendi Environnement to slightly over 40 percent, pushing stock higher.

July 1 - Messier locks himself into all-day talks with his closest aides as calls for his head mount. Vivendi imposes news blackout as its shares rise up to 20 percent on investor relief at reports of Messier's ousting.

July 2 - Messier confirms he will quit, telling Le Figaro newspaper: "I tried to do too much too quickly."

July 3 - Vivendi names Aventis Deputy-Chairman Jean-Rene Fourtou to replace Messier. Fourtou says cash flow at Vivendi is stretched.

July 9 - French stock market regulator COB opens a probe into Vivendi Universal's financial communications.

July 10 - Vivendi secures an initial one billion euro emergency funding package to address cash squeeze.

August 14 - Vivendi unveils 12.3 billion euro first-half loss. Fourtou vows to sell off assets worth at least 10 billion euros over the next two years.

September 18 - Vivendi wins three billion euro medium-term loan facility from banks, replacing one billion credit agreed in July and giving it roughly six months of breathing space.

September 25 - Vivendi announces resignation of six board members and ups asset disposal target to 12 billion euros over the next 18 months.

October 23 - Vivendi sells off its non-U.S. publishing assets to French media group Lagardere for 1.25 billion euros after failing to sell the entire publishing

business in one package.

October 28 - Amid behind-the-scenes maneuvering to mount its own bid for Cegetel, Vivendi wins a crucial court decision granting it more time to respond to a bid by Vodafone Group. It rejects the Vodafone offer a day later.

November 7 - Vivendi finalizes deal to sell its U.S. book division Houghton Mifflin for 1.7 billion euros and says it is lining up the sale of half its 40 percent stake in Vivendi Environnement, its historic water business.

December 4 - Vivendi says it plans to slash costs at its U.S. entertainment arm as it prepares for a possible partial flotation of the business which includes Universal Studios.


March 6 - Vivendi wears the dubious crown of reporting France's worst corporate loss for the second year running at 23.3 billion euros ($25.7 billion) for 2002.

March 19 - Vivendi confirms Barry Diller has resigned as the chief of its U.S. entertainment business.

April 29 - Vivendi officially hoists a for-sale sign over its American entertainment empire.

July 1 - Vivendi axes oil tycoon Marvin Davis from a list of suitors for its U.S. media empire, paving the way for talks with five media bidders still in the race.

It also takes the world's No. 1 music company Universal Music Group off the auction block, telling interested parties to revise their offers to exclude the group.

July 16 - Vivendi rejects a proposed $11.5 billion bid from Hollywood movie studio MGM for its entertainment assets.

July 29 - MGM abruptly pulls out of the auction, saying the price expectation is too high.

September 2 - U.S. television network NBC, wins Vivendi Universal's show business auction with a multi-billion dollar merger to create a new entertainment industry giant.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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