Major American trademarks such as Intel and Microsoft reigned over the four-day Milia exhibition on developing technologies in Cannes last month, but unquestionably its chief attraction was the recently formed French-American global conglomerate Vivendi Universal (News, Jan. 1). The product of the merger of the existing French communications and environmental services conglomerate Vivendi and the Seagram film and music businesses, VU is the world's second-largest media company.
Vivendi Universal Publishing (VUP)—Vivendi's logos and all of its divisions now use English-language titles—is a world leader in PC, Mac and online games and an international publisher in education (both in print-on-paper and electronics, including CD-ROM, Internet and WAP delivery), in health, in B2B and general information via press and business letters, and (chiefly in French) for the general trade.
At a star-studded presentation at Milia—presided over by VUP's managing director Eric Licoys and CEO Agnès Touraine—Vivendi Universal unveiled a global Internet destination, Education.com, with reference information, teaching programs for home use adapted to national curricula, community activities and all-around "family fun."
Already, Touraine told PW, some 47% of Vivendi Universal Publishing's turnover (over $3.2 billion) is earned outside of France, and the intention is to raise that percentage considerably. Though VUP general literature remains very French, the plan is to increase international activity in every other area, with the U.S. as a priority target. Currently, 77% of game income comes from the U.S. As for education, she said, "we intend to stay very close to the leaders, especially Pearson." Of the $925 million earned each year by VUP's education division, the U.S. now accounts for 20% (mostly via Knowledge Adventure).
VUP's Jean-Marie Messier described his single-minded goal: world leadership in education, games, music, movies. He argued that the "PC-centric" world is dead; he intends to move from 150 million to 750 million customers in five years' time thanks to a switch to TV delivery.
Like the autumn fair in Frankfurt for books, Milia is a project fair, offering enabling technologies in beta versions; few spotlight finished products here. But it is, by intention, also a content fair, matching up providers such as the Corbis picture archive with publishers who can use it. America's Scholastic was a first-time exhibitor. The stand's keeper, Aleen Stein, director of international licensing for the Scholastic Software and Internet Group, noted that as the world's largest children's media company, Scholastic distributes to 85 countries in 25 languages via 30 partners. She finds Milia the ideal place to find takers for Scholastic software and Internet content, and despite the accepted wisdom that "CD-ROM is dead," Stein insists& "It's still where the money comes from—not broadband, which is what you talk about." Still, one must touch all bases, and she recently recruited a Europe-based expert on broadband and interactive TV, Ferhan Cook of MediaPlay International, to explore new outlets for Scholastic.
One trend from the show is that the lowly video game is going to be everybody's secret weapon in driving both technology and services. Or, as Avi Horwitz of Israel's Exent Technologies explained, technology that was developed for multiplayer games is now available for other downloading applications, such as education and family entertainment.
At the Think Tank Summit, run by Internet and emerging technologies specialist Forrester Research of Cambridge, Mass., PW spoke to keynote speaker Mary Modahl, v-p responsible for the Internet economy, who pointed to some significant technology differences between Eastern and Western hemispheres. Summing them up, Modahl remarked: "America is basically the PC, and Europe is not about the PC." As for e-books, they obviously haven't taken off on either side of the Atlantic. At best the technology offers a vehicle for transmitting extracts. "But it's not the reading culture. The paper book works," Modahl added succinctly. Other participants commented that if Europe lags in e-publishing, it's so much the better; a generation or two of American trial and error will help everybody.