In a shock move, Activision and Vivendi have announced that they have signed a definitive agreement to combine Vivendi Games, Vivendi's interactive entertainment business with Activision, creating the world’s largest pure-play online and console game publisher.
The new company, Activision Blizzard, is expected to have approximately $3.8 billion in pro forma combined calendar 2007 revenues and the highest operating margins of any major third-party video game publisher. On closing of the transaction, Activision will be renamed Activision Blizzard and will continue to operate as a public company traded on NASDAQ under the ticker ATVI.
Activision is best known for its top-selling franchises, including Guitar Hero, Call of Duty and the Tony Hawk series, as well as Spider-Man, X-Men, Shrek, James Bond and Transformers. Blizzard Entertainment, a division of Vivendi Games, has projected calendar 2007 revenues of $1.1 billion, operating margins of over 40% and approximately $520 million of operating profit.
Blizzard owns the #1 multi-player online role-playing game franchise, World of Warcraft, which currently has over 9.3 million subscribers worldwide. Blizzard’s World of Warcraft, Warcraft, StarCraft and Diablo games account for four of the top-five best-selling PC game titles of all time. Vivendi Games also owns popular franchises, including Crash Bandicoot and Spyro. Pro forma for calendar 2007, Activision Blizzard expects to generate approximately 70% of its revenues from owned franchises.
New Executive Roles
Following the completion of the transaction, Robert Kotick will be President and Chief Executive Officer of Activision Blizzard. Bruce Hack, current Chief Executive Officer of Vivendi Games, will serve as Vice-Chairman and Chief Corporate Officer of Activision Blizzard, accountable for leading the merger integration and the finance, human resources and legal functions.
Mike Griffith will serve as President and Chief Executive Officer of Activision Publishing, which after closing will include the Sierra Entertainment, Sierra Online and Vivendi Games Mobile divisions in addition to the Activision business.
Mike Morhaime will continue to serve as President and Chief Executive Officer of Blizzard Entertainment. Thomas Tippl, currently Chief Financial Officer of Activision, will be appointed Chief Financial Officer of Activision Blizzard and Jean-François Grollemund, currently Chief Financial Officer of Vivendi Games, will be appointed Chief Accounting Officer of Activision Blizzard.
The transaction is subject to the approval of Activision's stockholders - pending regulatory and stockholder approval, the companies expect the transaction to be completed in the first half of calendar year 2008.
Under the terms of the agreement, which is complex due to the nature of the deal, Vivendi Games will be merged with a wholly owned subsidiary of Activision. In the merger, shares of Vivendi Games will be converted into 295.3 million new shares of Activision common stock.
Based on the transaction price of $27.50 per share of Activision common stock, this implies a value of approximately $8.1 billion for Vivendi Games. Concurrently with the merger, Vivendi will purchase 62.9 million newly issued shares of Activision common stock at a price of $27.50 per share – a premium of 31% to Activision’s average closing price over the past 20 trading days – for a total of $1.7 billion in cash. As a result of these transactions, Vivendi will own an approximate 52% ownership stake in Activision Blizzard.
The transaction is expected to be immediately accretive in its first year post-closing for Activision’s stockholders and slightly accretive for Vivendi’s stockholders. Activision Blizzard is targeting pro forma operating income of $1.1 billion and pro forma earnings per share (EPS) in excess of $1.20 in calendar year 2009. The transaction is expected to be at least $0.20 accretive to Activision stockholders in calendar year 2009.
Board Of Directors
Activision Blizzard’s board of directors will be comprised of eleven members: six directors designated by Vivendi, two Activision management directors and three independent directors who currently serve on Activision’s board of directors. René Penisson, currently a member of the Management Board of Vivendi and Chairman of Vivendi Games, will serve as Chairman of Activision Blizzard. Brian Kelly, currently Co-Chairman of Activision, will serve as Co-Chairman of Activision Blizzard. The three independent directors will be Richard Sarnoff, Robert J. Corti and Robert Morgado.
Other Activision Blizzard directors will be Robert Kotick (President and Chief Executive Officer of Activision Blizzard), Bruce Hack (Vice-Chairman and Chief Corporate Officer of Activision Blizzard), Jean-Bernard Lévy (Chairman of the Management Board and Chief Executive Officer of Vivendi), Doug Morris (Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Universal Music Group), Philippe Capron (Member of the Management Board and Chief Financial Officer of Vivendi), and Frédéric Crépin (Senior Vice President, Head of Legal, Vivendi).
Jean-Bernard Lévy, Chairman of the Management Board and Chief Executive Officer of Vivendi stated: “This alliance is a major strategic step for Vivendi and is another illustration of our drive to extend our presence in the entertainment sector. By combining Vivendi’s games business with Activision, we are creating a worldwide leader in a high-growth industry. We are excited about the opportunities for Activision Blizzard as a broader entertainment software platform.”
Said Robert Kotick, Activision's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer: “This is an outstanding transaction for Activision and our stockholders, as well as a pivotal event in the continuing transformation of the interactive entertainment industry. By combining leaders in mass-market entertainment and subscription-based online games, Activision Blizzard will be the only publisher with leading market positions across all categories of the rapidly growing interactive entertainment software industry and reach the broadest possible audiences. By joining forces with Vivendi Games, we will become the immediate leader in the highly profitable online games business and gain a large footprint in the rapidly growing Asian markets, including China and Korea, while maintaining our leading operating performance across North America and Europe. Activision stockholders will benefit from significantly increased earnings power and the recurring nature and predictability of subscription-based revenues, while also having the opportunity, if they choose, to receive $27.50 per share for a portion of their shares in the post-closing tender offer.”
Kotick continued: “Vivendi Games provides Activision with unique strategic and financial benefits and will allow us to leverage our franchises into emerging online opportunities as Blizzard has done so successfully. Activision has been very focused on margin expansion, and this transaction will meaningfully increase our overall operating margins as we expand our franchises online and in new geographies. Diversifying our revenue base among subscription-based online, console and PC formats, as well as wireless and casual emerging opportunities, gives us the broadest platform to capitalize on industry growth. With Blizzard’s successful franchises, such as World of Warcraft, StarCraft and an exciting pipeline of yet-to-be announced titles, Vivendi Games’ and Blizzard’s management team will join with Activision’s strong and experienced leaders to become an even more powerful force for innovation in online and offline interactive entertainment across a wide range of platforms. This transaction also provides a unique relationship with Universal Music Group – the world’s largest music company – which will benefit Guitar Hero and further extend our sizable leadership position in music-based games.”
Mike Morhaime, President and Chief Executive Officer of Blizzard, added: "Blizzard's industry-leading PC games business, with a track record of nine consecutive bestsellers and a global subscriber base of more than 9.3 million World of Warcraft players, is an exceptional fit for Activision's highly profitable console games business. From our interactions with the Activision team, it is clear we have much in common in terms of our approaches to game development and publishing. Above all, we are looking forward to continue creating great games for Blizzard gamers around the world, and we believe this new partnership will help us to do that even better than before.”
A conference call discussing the deal will be held before NASDAQ market open on Monday, and Gamasutra will cover comments from it in full.