Gaumont sheds TV

Unit prexy/founder Charret buys major's arm

PARIS — Gallic major Gaumont will sell the majority of its TV production division to Gaumont Television president Christian Charret, with a view to ceding the rest of the subsid in the next month.

Charret, who founded the division in 1990, told Daily Variety that Gaumont will remain a minority shareholder in Gaumont Television for a short time until they are bought out by an as-yet unnamed group.

Unwilling to be led as to who may step in, Charret said, “I am having conversations with French and non-French groups.” An announcement could be made by the end of the summer, “and definitely before Mipcom (in October),” when the company also will be rechristened.

International hook-up

Industry wisdom hints that it will be a major international group that comes in to pick up where Gaumont is leaving off.

The Gaumont subsid has worked successfully with Rysher in the U.S. on such series as “Highlander” and “Raven.” Germany’s Pro Sieben is also a frequent Gaumont Television co-producer, as is local private web M6.

The decision to divest the television arm comes as somewhat of a surprise since Gaumont Television has provided a steady stream of income for the venerable giant.

In Gaumont’s half-year results released last week, the TV department was reported to have remained stable compared with last year.

But, according to Charret, company prexy Nicolas Seydoux has his sights set on expanding Gaumont’s film production and exhibition divisions.

The sell-off also comes at a time when French companies like Pathe and Canal Plus are busy vertically integrating themselves to become full-service studios. However, whereas these companies own all or part of varied TV outlets, Gaumont does not. Indeed, a company statement released Monday night cited Gaumont’s “policy to redefine its cinematographic activities” as the reason for the cession.

Tighter focus

With a slate of ambitious multiplex-building projects and big-budget films in the works, “Gaumont needs to concentrate its energy and resources,” said Charret, who allowed that his desire to leave and take the division with him has been brewing for months.

Charret, who is also president of the French producers union USPA, will leave with a catalog of about 500 hours of nonfiction and fiction programming; Gaumont’s hugely successful animated fare falls under the Gaumont Multimedia arm and will remain with the parent company.

Gaumont Television recently began production on “Pearls of the Pacific,” a series filming in French Polynesia, and Charret said his strategy to produce high-quality programming in French and English will “stay the same, geared toward domestic and international.”

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