This is a partial transcript from Your World with Neil Cavuto, September 4, 2003, that was edited for clarity. Click here for complete access to all of Neil Cavuto's CEO interviews.
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NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: It is tough to be one Edgar Bronfman, Jr. these days. When he lost the bid for Vivendi's entertainment assets, he kind of lost the dream of recapturing his old business, and the chance to restore his pride, not to mention some of his family’s vast fortune. But those who know Edgar say never count him out of anything. So what is next for this media mogul? Let’s ask him. Edgar Bronfman, Jr. joins me now for an exclusive chat, his first since losing, ostensibly, the Vivendi auction.
Have you lost it, by the way?
EDGAR BRONFMAN JR., VIVENDI UNIVERSAL VICE CHMN.: Well, I really don’t look at it that way, I mean, obviously the deal with NBC I think is going to go through. And I think, as it turned out, it was a better deal for Vivendi than they had, you know, probably a week ago. But I feel great. I mean, we took the biggest company in the world to the last pitch of the last inning of probably one of the largest and most complex transactions ever done. We had great partners, Cablevision was fantastic, Tom Lee, Blackstone, we put together, you know, a multi-billion dollar bid.
CAVUTO: So what happened, you had a lot more up-front cash, they wanted cash?
BRONFMAN: Look, hey, they’re GE, we weren’t. I mean, GE is the most powerful company in the world. They decided they wanted this company. And at the end of the day they did what was necessary to get the Vivendi board to do the deal.
CAVUTO: But you know, the question I have for you is it is not as if you just walk away and take your marbles. You’re still the largest shareholder in the company. You have a clear relationship with Barry Diller, who on the phone with me was telling me a couple of days ago, those guys still owe me about $2 1/2 billion, so you are still a player here.
BRONFMAN: Oh, yes. I mean, first of all, I definitely am still a player in the whole Vivendi mix, as being a large shareholder. I’m also still vice chairman of the board. I simply sort of recuse myself from participating during this bidding process.
CAVUTO: So are you back to now being vice chairman?
BRONFMAN: I actually never stopped being vice chairman. I just wasn’t participating in the board meetings. And I intend go back on the Vivendi board but I’m going to wait until the definitive agreements are signed.
CAVUTO: If the definitive agreement comes down to NBC taking over, I think they take four Vivendi directors with them, right?
BRONFMAN: I think three.
CAVUTO: Would you be among them?
BRONFMAN: I have no idea. That is up to Vivendi, and I haven’t had that discussion with Vivendi.
CAVUTO: Well, you are the No. 2 guy.
BRONFMAN: Yes. But I haven’t had that discussion at the board meeting. And I think, you know...
CAVUTO: It has not even cropped up?
BRONFMAN: No. Actually, not with me directly.
CAVUTO: You know, I know you wanted to vindicate maybe yourself, maybe your family, maybe the stake and you didn’t get that opportunity. Methinks that you are not done, that maybe music is in your future, after all, the music component was not up for grabs this time, would you be pursuing that?
BRONFMAN: Well, first off, I don’t look at it that way. This deal was not about vindication. I mean, what happened is what happened, which is we built a tremendous amount of value at Universal. We rebuilt the businesses that we found that were broken. We made the studio No. 1. We made the music group No. 1. We made theme parks No. 2. We built a lot of value.
CAVUTO: But if you had to do it all over again.
BRONFMAN: If I had to do it all over again, I would do it again. I think what happened in the merger with Vivendi was we sold at the top of the market for a phenomenal price. The idea was right, which was to marry content with distribution. And I think the mobile platform in Europe and the largest satellite platform in Europe, largest mobile platform, too, were great distribution vehicles.
CAVUTO: But did you have any inkling that Messier would be a disaster?
BRONFMAN: No, because frankly, when the thing started he had a real record of accomplishment. And the last six months of his reign at Vivendi Universal, it was just a complete disaster. And.
CAVUTO: So ironically you went from the guy who was closely linked up to him, to the guy who ultimately said good bye to him, right?
BRONFMAN: That’s right. I mean, I was the one who led the fight to get him out of there.
CAVUTO: Have you guys ever chatted since?
CAVUTO: Really, bad blood?
BRONFMAN: Well, I just don’t see any particular reason to talk to him.
CAVUTO: All right. What about talking to the Vivendi folks now, I mean, you are vice chairman of the board, you say, all right, what about music?
BRONFMAN: Look, I think they have got to get this deal done with NBC before they’re going to turn their attention anywhere. And frankly, they made their decision on Tuesday, it’s Thursday. It’s a little early for me to decide what I’m going to do next.
CAVUTO: But you know it is weird the way they made the decision. Essentially, I look at it as like a pinky ring agreement: We’re going to date exclusively, but they didn’t sign and seal the deal.
BRONFMAN: No, they didn’t. And I’m not sure why.
CAVUTO: Did you find it weird the way they made the announcement?
BRONFMAN: I found it unusual. I mean, certainly as a bidder it’s unusual to sign of a letter of intent rather than a definitive agreement. But I think that the timing worked out that they felt that that was the better way to go. And I think they feel confident they’re going to get their deal done with NBC.
CAVUTO: But you had said at the time that it would be a big mistake, you know, all sorts of problems would come up, but then you were very gentlemanly, very diplomatic about it after the fact. Which is this real Edgar Bronfman, Jr.?
BRONFMAN: Well, both, because I think that I felt and still feel that Vivendi needs a comprehensive real strategy going forward, and that it needs to get out of entertainment and into something else. But it needs to have a coherent strategy so that the investment community can get behind its equity. I think when I made the comments about NBC, it wasn’t clear that they were going to get much cash off the table. And they were kind of doubling down in entertainment. I think that was an error. But I think the deal moved dramatically. And I think they do have a clearer path to exit now through the NBC transaction. So I’m more comfortable as a shareholder that Vivendi is pursuing its path to give its investors a more coherent strategy.
CAVUTO: Now I used to work at GE and at CNBC, and they obviously mastered very quickly the broadcast world after getting RCA, but I don’t know about them running theme parks. What do you think of that, though?
BRONFMAN: Well, you know, I think they have been a little bit equivocal as to whether or not they intend to keep theme parks. But look, GE is an outstanding company, NBC is an outstanding company, they are good managers. They’ve managed sports personalities, they’ve managed news personalities, they’ll be able to manage movie personalities as well I’m sure.
CAVUTO: But you have handled that, I mean, who is worse?
BRONFMAN: I’ve never handled sports or news, so I can’t tell, Neil.
CAVUTO: You know, a lot of your friends have been talking to various wire services over the last couple days. One of them saying, you know, he’s going to do something. He’s not going to retire to Florida. What would that something be?
BRONFMAN: Well, as I said, I haven’t decided yet. I am going to do something. I like business.
CAVUTO: Would it be in entertainment?
BRONFMAN: Probably. But, you know, right now, I also have some terrific investments in, you know, luxury goods business called Asprey. And there are a lot of things that interest me. But I do love entertainment. I know how to run entertainment businesses, how to work with strong executives and build strong management teams, which is what I did at Universal. And I would love to have the opportunity to do it again.
CAVUTO: What a lot of people don’t realize about you, Edgar, that you are also a gifted songwriter. You know, I was just looking at Dionne Warwick’s tune "Whisper in the Dark," Celine Dion’s "To Love You More." Just the money you’re making off of that can take care of you, right?
BRONFMAN: Well, it is better than a kick in the pants.
CAVUTO: Better than 40 songs, right?
BRONFMAN: Yes. I mean, it has been great but I mean, it’s not my area of focus. But like Orrin Hatch is a great senator and a sometime songwriter, I think I still like a day job.
CAVUTO: Yes. But you have got a few platinum albums behind you. The reason why I keep going back to the music, if you will indulge me this, is that that seems to be the natural fit for you. You’ve built quite a music empire when you were at Universal in the original pre-Vivendi days, it only seems fitting and natural, as your friends and colleagues say, for you to pursue it again.
BRONFMAN: Well, look, I think the music industry is going through obviously a lot of changes right now. And I think there are a lot of people who are not sure which direction it is going to take. I think it is an interesting area. I have always loved the music business, because I think it is a very good business. Right now it is a difficult business because I think it is going through a transition. How long that transition will take, what the economic model of music will look like a year or two or three from now, I don’t think anybody really knows with certainty. But it is interesting, and I’ve always enjoyed it. But I’m not making predictions as to what I’m going to do.
CAVUTO: I know this is kind of outside the ballpark a little bit, but what do you make of this court decision yesterday which effectively stalls the SEC’s decision to allow broadcast giants to become bigger?
BRONFMAN: Well, I’m not a fan of that FCC decision, frankly. So I guess.
BRONFMAN: Because I think it is dangerous when news conglomerates get too large. I think, you know, increasingly you have got news organizations, FOX being one, which has a particular point of view about how they report the news.
CAVUTO: Would you feel less if it were Disney’s ABC?
BRONFMAN: No, no, I don’t think anyone should have the opportunity.
CAVUTO: It doesn’t matter whether it’s liberal or conservative?
BRONFMAN: No, no, no, I just think that no one should have the opportunity to sort of slant the news in a way to promote a particular point of view, liberal, conservative, moderate, whatever. I think diversity is a good thing for programming and I think people should have a reasonable amount of diversity in the viewpoints particularly when it comes to news.
CAVUTO: And you think that is less likely with conglomerates getting bigger regardless of their standpoint?
BRONFMAN: I think it has been the case so far and I think it would continue to be the case as conglomerates got larger.
CAVUTO: You know, this court case notwithstanding, media companies have been getting bigger, media stocks have been getting richer, today not withstanding, on the belief that advertising is picking up. Theme park traffic is picking up. The whole field is picking up. Do you buy that?
BRONFMAN: Well, look, everything is cyclical. I mean, media stocks were extremely strong through the last half of the ‘90s. They’ve fainted over the last three or four years. And they’ll come back. I mean, these are good, solid businesses. And the people who manage them, I think, are focused more on getting more cash and more earnings out of those businesses than they have before.
CAVUTO: But what if Bob Wright said, look, I don’t know anything about theme parks, as you said a little earlier, I’m going to sell them, would you be interested in that?
BRONFMAN: Well, I mean, let’s wait for Bob Wright to.
CAVUTO: Have you talked with him by the way?
BRONFMAN: I did, I called him to say congratulations to him.
CAVUTO: And what did he say?
BRONFMAN: He was very gracious. He’s an old friend and I think a terrific manager and I’m a great admirer of his. And we had a nice conversation.
CAVUTO: I can’t imagine him sloughing you off to the wilderness, though?
BRONFMAN: I don’t think it’s Bob’s responsibility to be my employment agent. I mean...
CAVUTO: So you would not entertain a secondary role to Bob Wright?
BRONFMAN: No, no.
CAVUTO: So you would have to be running something.
BRONFMAN: Even if he offered one. And I certainly wouldn’t consider it.
CAVUTO: So your days at Vivendi, outside of the largest single investor, are gone.
BRONFMAN: My days at Vivendi were gone when I resigned from Vivendi, that was 18 months ago and became only a board member. Then unfortunately.
CAVUTO: But a board member with a big investment.
BRONFMAN: Yes. Absolutely. But that has been my role for 18 months, unfortunately it has been far too active because we had to get Messier out and Jean-Rene Fourtou came in - and by the way, Jean-Rene has done an outstanding job. I mean, he really has.
CAVUTO: So you still like the French.
BRONFMAN: I like the people that I’m associated with now. Obviously I had a bad experience with the former.
CAVUTO: Barry Diller is not a fan of the French.
BRONFMAN: Well, you know, Barry has his own geopolitical views, and he can speak for himself.
CAVUTO: All right. Edgar Bronfman, Jr., very good seeing you.
BRONFMAN: Good to see you, Neil, thanks for having me here.
CAVUTO: I have a feeling we’ll be hearing about you more.
BRONFMAN: I look forward to it.
CAVUTO: Edgar Bronfman, Jr.
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