Universal Almost Bucks The Trend

Universal Music is the biggest player in the recorded music market but even that’s not turning over any more money than last year, with 2006 sales falling 1.5 percent to euro 1.7 billion.

The company is at least making money, as the entire music group including publishing turned in a 9.3 percent profit increase to euro 744 million (EBITDA). The increase is heavily related to the continued success of acts like U2, Andrea Bocelli, Snow Patrol, Nelly Furtado, and The Killers.

Although Vivendi chief exec Jean-Bernard Levy said he expects music sales to remain flat or show a slight increase in 2007, he believes the purchase of German-based BMG Music Publishing – which is up for scrutiny by the European Commission – will start to reap a benefit the following year.

The popularity of Vivendi’s "World of Warcraft" computer game helped boost the French media group’s annual results, more than compensating for the lackluster fourth-quarter figures from mobile phone operator SFR and the music group.

The online role-playing game, in which more than 8.5 million players lead fantasy lives, helped Vivendi Games to post a 109 percent increase in net profits to euro 115 million.

"In 2006, we exceeded our objectives, and I am pleased to announce an adjusted net income of euro 2.6 billion. This is the best result ever achieved by Vivendi," management board chairman Levy said at a March 6 Paris press conference.

He said the company will offer its investors a dividend of about euro 1.20 per share.

The announcement of the 2006 figures pushed up Vivendi shares by 1 percent to euro 29.50, giving the company a market value of about euro 34 billion.