By Ana Mano and Guillermo Parra-Bernal
SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Israeli businessman Amos Genish was vital to Vivendi SA's <VIV.PA> successful foray in Brazil a few years ago. Now the French media company has turned to him to create a single platform for digital, content and media distribution services, something its rivals are struggling to do.
Credited for pioneering the adoption of digital services at the helm of two Brazilian phone companies, Genish, 56, could engage in partnerships with mobile carriers as a way to channel Vivendi's videos, songs and games to consumers across Europe more easily.
His appointment this week as Vivendi's first chief convergence officer comes as global media companies bet on megadeals to increase their presence in entertainment-rich regions like the Americas, Europe and Asia while struggling to make efficient use of their digital capabilities and content.
Genish's ties with Spain's Telefónica SA <TEF.MC>, which he competed against and then presided over in Brazil until November, could prove useful for Vivendi to disseminate content in other countries without having to acquire phone carriers, analysts said.
"This will be a trump card for Vivendi in the forging of new partnerships with global carriers," Natixis analyst Jerôme Bodin said. "In particular, he knows Telefónica and its Latin American businesses inside out."
Genish's new role, integrating all the content that Vivendi's platforms produce and delivering it efficiently to customers, exemplifies how global media companies are responding to digital rivals such as Netflix Inc <NFLX.O> and Amazon.com Inc <AMZN.O>.
"Now it seems there is an organic strategy that aims to create value through making the existing platform more efficient, and not only through acquisitions," said João Moura, head of Brazilian industry group Telcomp.
Controlled by French billionaire Vincent Bolloré, Vivendi wants to become one of Europe's dominant media companies. Founded as a water utility during the reign of Napoleon III, it reshaped itself after embarking on a whirlwind of acquisitions and asset sales in the late 1990s.
Vivendi owns France's No. 1 pay TV service Canal+, music label Universal Music Group and YouTube competitor Dailymotion. It also controls large stakes in Italy's Mediaset SpA <MS.MI> and Telecom Italia SpA <TLIT.MI>.
FROM GVT TO TELEFÓNICA
Convincing carriers to channel content in different regions might help Vivendi sidestep the threat of rival media companies that are trying to combine their assets. Some such deals are facing more scrutiny from regulators, consumers and politicians.
To that end, Rupert Murdoch's Twenty-First Century Fox Inc <FOXA.O> struck a $14.6 billion agreement last month to buy the 61 percent of Sky Plc <SKYB.L> it does not already own. British politicians have vowed to monitor the deal closely.
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump remains opposed to AT&T Inc's <T.N> planned $85.4 billion takeover of Time Warner Inc <TWX.N>, Bloomberg News said on Thursday.
Reuters reported last month that Bolloré was bidding for a stake in Imagina, Spain's No. 1 sports broadcasting rights company, while he also faces off with former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi over control of Mediaset.
Itaú BBA analyst Susana Salaru said Genish's move to Vivendi meant a loss for Telefónica, which will miss his entrepreneurial spirit and knowledge of an industry poised for consolidation in coming years.
A former Israeli army captain, Genish founded phone company GVT SA in 1999 and transformed it into a fast-growing carrier. Vivendi bought GVT after a fierce bidding war with Telefónica in 2010 and kept him as chief executive officer.
Four years later, Vivendi sold GVT to Telefónica, realizing a capital gain of more than $4 billion, when it exited Brazil during a dispute among shareholders, including Bolloré, over the company's focus and soaring debt.
Following Telefónica's purchase of GVT, Genish became CEO of local subsidiary Telefónica Brasil SA <VIVT4.SA>. Under him, data surpassed voice as the main revenue source for the company's wireless unit, the first time a local carrier achieved this.
Under Genish, shares of Telefónica Brasil rose about 11 percent, and he more than doubled targeted cost savings from the GVT acquisition.
He also tried to boost the company's digital services division, whose 40 million clients use 80 applications developed through partnerships and in-house. One of these is Studio+, a new provider of short films for cellphone viewing.
(Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)