Canal+ topper exits pay-TV’er

Canal Plus chairman Andre Rousselet is to quit his job Wednesday following his resignation last week from the board of parent company Havas.

Sources at the pay-TV giant told Daily Variety that Rousselet, who has held his post since the web was set up in 1984, “has been saying (that) he wants to resign (ever) since Friday”– 24 hours after he stormed out of a Havas board meeting.

Rousselet will hand in his resignation at a specially convened Canal Plus board meeting on Wednesday and recommend that web No. 2 Pierre Lescure be appointed chairman.

Network insiders said that the transition from Rousselet to Lescure needed to be made fast in order to avoid the impression that the network is navigating without a captain. Canal Plus is also anxious to avoid having an outsider “parachuted” into the chairman’s office.

Lescure has been groomed as the heir-apparent to the 72-year-old Rousselet and is strongly backed by the network’s senior executives. But given the hostile relations between Rousselet and Havas chairman Pierre Dauzier, there was speculation Monday that Dauzier might try to place his own man at the head of the network.

Dauzier is seen as being closelyaligned to the conservative government, while Rousselet is a friend and former adviser to socialist President Francois Mitterrand. “Dauzier can try to block Lescure if he wants but on his own he can’t do anything,” opined a source close to the Canal Plus board.

Execs at the web’s other main shareholder, Generale des Eaux, would not comment officially on the transfer of power at Canal Plus, but one source admitted to Daily Variety that the waterworks services giant would back Lescure if he took over from Rousselet.

The leadership change at Canal Plus was prompted by last Thursday’s highly charged Havas board meeting at which Rousselet expressed his “total disagreement” with a deal involving the web’s main backers. The deal brought Havas (with a 23.5% stake), Generale des Eaux (20.1%) and Societe Generale (5.1 %) together in a joint holding company that effectively controls the network. Rousselet walked out of the meeting saying “I resign.”

Rousselet supporters say he was angry that he had not been kept fully informed by Havas about the imminent announcement of the holding company’s creation.

At the Havas board meeting, it was also announced that state-owned France Telecom is to take a stake in Havas, probably on the order of 5%.

As Canal Plus is Havas’ main shareholder, controlling about 8% of its capital , Rousselet has long opposed the entry of France Telecom into the Havas shareholder lineup.

Relations between Canal Plus and France Telecom are seriously strained, since both companies compete in the lucrative decoder technology market. Canal Plus has long championed its Syster decoder while France Telecom is pushing its rival Visiopass system.

France Telecom and Canal Plus have repeatedly clashed over developing new technology and the use of satellites. “France Telecom has systematically tried to block our development,” commented a Canal Plus source.

Rousselet’s demise has as much to do with politics as with commercial considerations. As a former aide to Mitterrand, Rousselet has always been associated with the left.

With the conservative government of Prime Minister Eduard Balladur now in power, life has gotten harder for Canal Plus. Negotiations to renew Canal Plus’ license were due to have been completed last year, but have been extended by the government until August as the conservatives extract financial concessions from the cash-rich web.

In particular, Rousselet was forced to agree to invest some 450 million francs ($ 76 million) over the next three years in France’s ailing cable system — an investment that Canal Plus insiders describe as a “pure loss.”

Some conservatives have also argued that the socialists granted Canal Plus preferential operating conditions in 1984.

The web is expected to announce 1993 profits in the region of $ 200 million but has predicted a 20% slide in net profits this year due partly to the cable demands imposed upon it.

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