There is big news in the world of video games today as Vivendi SA, the French mass media conglomerate, is set to decide on whether or not they will sell all or part of their controlling stake in Activision Blizzard Inc, the makers of the immensely popular (and profitable) Call of Duty franchise. Vivendi’s share prices have been on a steady decline over the past 12 months, currently sitting a a nine year low, so a radical reorganization could be in the works. The potential sale of Activision is one such strategy being considered to recoup these losses, a potentially game-changing move seeing that Vivendi currently owns 61% of shares in the company.
Activision Blizzard Inc. was born out of a merger between Activision and Vivendi’s Blizzard Games unit in 2007, and the company has since become one of the flagships of the Vivendi portfolio. Vivendi has a diverse roster of companies it operates in both the multimedia and telecommunications realm, including the popular French cable TV network Canal Plus, Brazilian phone operator GVT and the Universal Music Group. Activision is their fourth largest business unit and the second fastest-growing company with 2011 sales rounding out at a respectable $4.7 billion, not to mention a total market value of over $13 billion. The yearly releases in the Call of Duty franchise have accounted for a large portion of their profit.
While it seems inconceivable that a company would let go of a consistently profitable business unit like Activision, the powers that be at Vivendi are looking at both short-term ways to increase their market value and long-term profitability. Opinion is divided on whether or not this sale of Activision Blizzard Inc. would be a good idea. Vivendi chairman Jean-Rene Fourtou sees the potential in freeing value from assets the company has currently locked in, which could then be invested into other areas. Expert analysts, such as Claudio Aspesi of Sanford C. Bernstein & Co, views this as a band-aid solution that is actionable in the short term but doesn’t address the long-term issues the company is facing.
It needs to be pointed out that the potential sale of some, or all, of Vivendi’s interest in Activision is just speculation at this point. The annual meeting, which is in truth a weekend retreat, between the top brass at Vivendi has been a tradition since 2005 and the future of Activision is one of many items on the agenda. The big question on the minds of gamers is what this could mean for future Activision games, such as their next Call of Duty title, and this can really go either way. Should a sale occur, it might just mean a transfer of ownership and the impact on the game development is negligible, or it could mean a major overhaul at all levels. This remains to be seen, if indeed it actually happens.
The meeting is scheduled to start on June 22, with a decision expected to be announced shortly thereafter.