Vivendi Universal has confirmed Apple's interest in buying its Universal Music Group (UMG) subsidiary, but it isn't the only potential bidder and it may have to cough up more cash if it wants the acquisition to succeed.
News that the Mac maker might buy UMG broke last week in the LA Times. The paper claimed the two companies have been in talks since December, and than Apple has hired Morgan Stanley to do due diligence. At that point, neither company would comment on the LA Times' story.
Today, however, Bloomberg quotes Vivendi director Claude Bebear as saying "Apple will probably make an offer for the music business, for about $6 billion". That's the figure cited by the Times report last week. According to Bebear, $10 billion is closer to the mark.
Unfortunately for Apple, General Electric, Viacom and Liberty Media chairman John Malone are all lined up as potential bidders too, having all expressed an interest in UMG, said Bebear.
Worse, the Vivendi director poo-poos the Apple figure as "a little low", so CEO Steve Jobs may have to dig a little deeper if he really does want to run a record company.
He may not do. Since the LA Times story appeared, Apple's stock has fallen on the news, suggesting investors aren't keen on the deal. And Microsoft has entered the fray through rumours that it's interested in buying UMG too. Not that Bebear mentioned the Beast. The music industry has been living in mortal fear for the past five years of Redmond riding roughshod through their industry.
Then again, Vivendi needs the money. It's trying to sell off around $7.6 billion of assets this year to help reduce the debts it built up under former CEO Jean-Marie Messier.
According to the Wall Street Journal this week, Jobs is interested only in investing in UMG, and has offered $1.5 billion for a stake in the business. That offer, the WSJ claims, was made to win UMG's approval for Apple's upcoming online music service. However, the LA Times article suggests Apple has already won that support, and the acquisition plan emerged out of the licensing discussions. ®