Vivendi said on Monday it holds just over 3 percent of Mediaset and could raise that to as much as 20 percent in a move the Italian broadcaster's top investor called a first step towards launching a hostile takeover bid for the company.
The announcement only aggravates a months-long feud between the French media giant, led by chairman and biggest shareholder Vincent Bollore, and the Italian broadcaster controlled by the family of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
The two companies have been at loggerheads since July when Vivendi backed out of an agreement that would have given it control of Mediaset's pay-TV division Premium and handed the two firms 3.5 percent stakes in each other.
Buying into Mediaset is part of Bollore's strategy to expand into southern Europe and transform the French company into an integrated European media powerhouse.
"Vivendi intends to carry on its purchase of shares in Mediaset, depending on market conditions, to become, if possible, the second industrial shareholder in Mediaset, which to begin with could represent 10 to 20 percent of Mediaset's capital," it added.
Berlusconi's investment holding Fininvest, which controls Mediaset via a 34.7 percent stake, lashed out at Vivendi, accusing it of trying to depress the company's share price to then launch a "hostile takeover" at a discounted price.