This history of Vivendi Universal is by no means complete. Think of it as a rough outline.
The existence of Vivendi Universal can be traced back to 1853, as a French company called Compagnie Générale des Eaux (hereafter abbreviated as CGE). This company was originally a water utility serving the city of Lyons, and later other cities.
From 1980 through 1996 (127 years after its creation), CGE expanded its operations, both into new operations and countries. Its new operations included waste management, transportation, construction, and energy.
Part of this expansion included the creation of a digital pay-TV service called Canal+ (and later CanalSatellite), as well as a telecommunications company and GSM cellular phone service provider called SFR. Each of these companies became one of the largest in their respective fields.
In 1996, CGE created Cegetel, into which it put all of its telecommunications operations. Its fixed operations would go into Cegetel, and its GSM phone service would go into SFR. In 1997, Cegetel worked with the national French railroad SNCF to create an alternate telecommunications backbone through France. In 1998, Cegetel started offering voice telephone service over its lines.
In 1998 the Compagnie Générale des Eaux changed its name to Vivendi.
From 1997 through 2000, Canal+'s digital pay-TV service expanded across much of Europe, offering service in Spain, Italy, Poland, Scandinavia, Belgium, and the Netherlands.
In June of 2000, Vivendi announced plans to merge Canal+ with Seagram (the parent of Universal Studios, among other things). In July of 2000 Vivendi was listed on the Paris stock exchange, and in September of the same year it was listed on the New York stock exchange.
In December of 2000, the merger of Canal+ and Seagram went through, creating the company of Vivendi Universal, one of the largest media companies in the world.
As of this writing, Vivendi Universal is in the process of finding a buyer for its videogame unit (and I think other things), which includes Universal Interactive, Sierra Entertainment, and Blizzard Entertainment. The current three most probable buyers are Microsoft, Sony, and Sega.
The following trademarks used herein are owned by Vivendi Universal and its affiliates (and should give you some idea of this corporation's size):
All other trademarks are the property of the respective trademark owners.
Source: The Vivendi Universal website: vivendiuniversal.com
As inspired by tregoweth's (now deleted) writeup in McDonald's.