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Ubisoft buy back shares to halt Vivendi's hostile takeover

Goliath vs. Smaller Goliath

The Ubisoft versus Vivendi financial war has been surprisingly fascinating to watch, not least because it’s one of the few instances where the huge French publisher could be considered the underdog. Vivendi have been seemingly preparing for a takeover for some time, but recent developments make it look like Ubisoft might be able to stave of the potential acquisition.

Here’s the skinny, if this is the first you’re hearing about it: For several years, Vivendi, a gargantuan French media company and the former parent company of Activision, have been trying to swallow up Ubisoft. They’ve been doing this by buying up any shares that they can, which Ubisoft’s owners have not welcomed at all.

Ubisoft is currently controlled by the Guillemot family, who aren’t strangers to hostile takeovers from Vivendi. Last year, Gameloft, the mobile publisher founded by the family, was acquired by Vivendi. Having 30% of the voting rights would allow Vivendi to add Ubisoft to their list of companies, and after acquiring 25% of the company’s shares last year, they were getting close.

Since then, Vivendi’s influence has increased, and they now control almost 27% percent of shares and just over 25% of the voting rights. And an even bigger crisis seemed to be looming on the horizon. The French Florange Law grants double voting rights to long-term shareholders. Long-term shareholders like Vivendi. It’s not a law that’s got a lot of fans among France’s biggest companies. Essentially, this would push Vivendi’s voting rights past what it needs to start the takeover.

In the last couple of weeks, the Guillemots have made some big moves to secure their company. During the annual meeting last month, shareholders backed them, approving the appointment of new independent directors to the board. This change means that the independents have a majority. But thanks to Vivendi abstaining, another resolution was not passed. It would have allowed Ubisoft to issue more free shares to employees. A press release from Ubisoft at the time called it "essential".

Share-based compensation is an essential tool for recruiting and retaining top talent in the videogame industry, and is a standard practice for competitive, modern, high-tech companies. Alternative solutions will be put in place to guarantee competitive compensation for talents.

This week, Ubisoft announced plans to repurchase shares using an unnamed investment services provider. From October 5, that's yesterday, until December 29, Ubisoft will be allowed to buy back 4 million shares. Shareholders agreed to this during the last annual meeting.

These shares represent 10% of the publisher’s capital, and once bought, they’ll be retired. This means that nobody, not even Vivendi, will be able to gobble them up. Though it’s worth noting that, publically, Vivendi haven’t confirmed that they’re looking to acquire Ubisoft, despite their aggressive moves. They say they’re even considering selling their shares.

But why does one big company devouring another big company matter to us? Well, Vivendi isn’t exactly invested in games, argues Yves Guillemot, and instead just cares about the bottom line. Ubisoft also care about profit, obviously, but Guillemot points to games like Child of Light that he doesn’t believe could be made if Vivendi got control of the reins of power.

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