How Ubisoft Is Preparing for (Possible) Vivendi Hostile Takeover
French company meeting with investors and even Canadian government as part of "fight to preserve our independence."
Vivendi, the French media conglomerate that once owned Activision Blizzard, currently holds a more than 10 percent stake in Assassin's Creed and Far Cry publisher Ubisoft. The company increased its stake to that amount from 6.6 percent last year, in a move that Ubisoft called "unsolicited and unwelcome."
After Vivendi's initial investment into Ubisoft last year, Guillemot said in an email to staffers that the company would "fight to preserve our independence." Now, The Globe and Mail reports that Ubisoft is doing just that, seeking Canadian investors to help the company fight a possible takeover.
Ubisoft management, including founder and CEO Yves Guillemot, met this week with "a dozen potential investors" in Montreal and Toronto in an effort to "build support for the company's founders and current management."
As The Globe and Mail points out, though Ubisoft is based in France, its biggest development studio is in Montreal. That team has worked on games in the Assassin's Creed, Far Cry, and Watch Dogs franchises, among others.
The site goes on to say that Vivendi has also made an unsolicited offer to buy Gameloft, a mobile game company based in France and run by Guillemot's brothers. It is reported that the hostile bid for Gameloft represents the "first step in Vivendi's larger ploy to force talks with the Guillemot family" about taking over Ubisoft.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Guillemot said he didn't think Vivendi would shut down Ubisoft's Canadian studios, but that they would be better protected if Ubisoft remained independent. He also pointed out that remaining independent would allow Ubisoft to have more "operational agility" instead of being forced to work on projects for Vivendi franchises.
"We want to increase the number of Canadian shareholders in Ubisoft to have better control over the capital," Guillemot said. "We feel it's a good defense."
Guillemot went on to say that he recently met with Quebec Premiere Philippe Couillard and would welcome an investment from the government. Support from Ottawa would also be accepted, while Guillemot also confirmed that he met with unspecified investors in London.
He and his brothers together own around 9 percent of Ubisoft's equity and 16 percent of voting rights. Two major outside shareholders, Blackrock and Fidelity, together own around 15 percent and side with current management, according to The Globe and Mail.
The next Ubisoft shareholder meeting is scheduled for September. Guillemot said he needs the support of 50 percent or more of voters to stop Vivendi from making changes to its current board of directors.
If Vivendi is successful in taking control over Ubisoft, it could face a "monumental challenge," according to The Globe and Mail.
"If it can't coax the Guillemot brothers into a friendly deal, it runs the risk of losing not only them but employees loyal to them in an industry that depends on creative talent," it reported.
The full Globe and Mail story is a fascinating read, packed with interesting insight.
It's unclear what impact Vivendi's continued acquisition of shares could have on Ubisoft. But considering Ubisoft is among the biggest game publishers in the world, with franchises like Assassin's Creed, Far Cry, and Just Dance under its umbrella, we'll be continuing to monitor this story closely.
Vivendi is the former owner of Activision Blizzard. The company began looking to sell off its majority stake in the publisher in 2012 and eventually did so in 2013. It still owns part of the company, but that figure--roughly 12 percent after the 2013 sale--is now less than six percent.
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