How do you water down what once was little more than a water utility company? Vivendi Universal(NYSE: V) had ambitious global intentions once, but now its struggling conglomerate is under water. With big bets leading to even bigger debts, the French company that grew to become the world's third-largest media empire is now in a cash crunch. It's doing what anyone else would do when money is tight: looking around its house for assets and pitching a garage sale.

The fact that Vivendi was setting up for a massive asset sale has been known for some time. However, it became a fire sale earlier today after the company posted a 12.3 billion euro ($12 billion) loss for the first half of the year and Standard & Poor's downgraded the company's debt to junk bond status. The bulk of the deficit comes from writing down the value of its acquired assets. That's an ironic zinger given the fact that the company is now out to talk up the value of its assets to interested suitors.

Vivendi's properties are certainly valuable. Between its Houghton Mifflin educational publishing division and the Universal entertainment behemoth chock full of interests in movies, music, and theme parks, Vivendi is well-stocked. If stateside media conglomerates weren't so strapped for cash -- and Vivendi so desperate to land some -- the company would have been able to name its price back in the entertainment sector's heyday. But we are far removed from those times so Vivendi will have to get what it can, in hopes that it will be enough to get back to sea level. You know, where the water is.