Vivendi will look to raise its stake in Italian broadcaster Mediaset to 30 per cent, opening up the potential to couple with Telecom Italia and wield greater influence in the country’s content market.

The French telecoms and media group, which is the largest single shareholder in the Italian operator, said in a statement it would lift its stake in Mediaset by acquiring additional shares “depending on market conditions”, within the limits of 30 per cent of the share capital and voting rights.

Under Italian law, this is the maximum legal threshold before an investor is required to launch a takeover offer.

Vivendi, led by billionaire Vincent Bollore, last week confirmed it had grown its stake in Mediaset from 3 per cent to 20 per cent, spending €800 million.

The development follows the failure of a partnership between the French giant and Fininvest, Mediaset’s current holding company, regarding its pay-TV business.

However, the situation threatens to turn ugly after former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who controls Fininvest, slammed Vivendi’s advances as hostile.

In response, Fininvest recently raised its ownership from 35 per cent to 38.3 per cent, but the move means it cannot buy any more shares until April, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The company also lodged complaints against Vivendi, alleging market abuse with national market authority Consob.

Meanwhile, the Italian government raised its objections to the French group, as concerns grow over Vivendi’s influence across Italy.

Strategic ambitions, not hostile
Vivendi, which made a €3 billion investment in Telecom Italia to take a near 25 per cent stake while building up its influence in the boardroom over the past six months, insists the play for Mediaset is part of its “strategic ambitions”.

“Vivendi reminds that its presence in the Mediaset equity is in line with the groups’ intentions to develop its activites in Southern Europe and its strategic ambitions as a major international, European-based media and content group,” it stated.

Vivendi, and Bollore in particular, have a reputation of building large stakes in companies and, in effect, wielding enough power to eventually make decisions in the boardroom without actually making a takeover bid.

Most recently, it build up a stake of 96 per cent in French game publisher Gameloft.

It slowly accumulated the stake and eventually took control despite efforts from Gameloft’s founders, the Guillemot family, to fend off Vivendi’s takeover efforts.