Le Lay ankles as prexy of France’s TPS

Satellite platform's ownership may be changed

PARIS — Patrick Le Lay, chairman and CEO of French web TF1, has quit the presidency of French satellite platform TPS. Meanwhile, Gerard Mestrallet, head of TPS shareholder Suez, has ankled as administrator.

The resignations represent one of the biggest shake-ups in the platform’s existence.

TF1 exec Emmanuel Florent, a TPS board member since the beginning of the year, will replace Le Lay, founder of the platform, while Mestrallet’s place on the board is being taken by Jacques Espinasse, TPS’s managing director.

With 1.04 million subscribers, TPS is in tight competition with Canal Plus subsid Canal Satellite, which boasts 1.67 million subs. The platform, which has yet to break even, is 25%-owned by TF1, 25% by rival web M6, 25% by Suez, also one of M6’s major shareholders, and 25% by France Television Entreprises.

Officially, both Le Lay and Mestrallet have stepped down because of new French rules limiting the number of jobs top execs can hold, but speculation is rife there could be other reasons for their departures.

Le Lay had a serious falling-out with other board members recently over TPS’s decision to broadcast rival web M6’s highly successful reality show “Loft Story” on one of its channels, a disagreement that soured relations between shareholders.

But his decision to appoint rising star Emmanuel Florent, who also heads interactive division e-TF1, sends out a clear signal that the TV group intends to continue ruling the roost.

One possible scenario is that the stage is being set for a change in TPS’s shareholder structure.

Rumors have been circulating for some time that one or more of TPS’s shareholders – Suez and France Television have both been mentioned – might be ready to sell their stake. Although the company has a stake in M6 and TPS, as well as cable interests, Suez is primarily a utilities group and pulling out would be a logical step.

If such a move is envisaged, clearly Le Lay and Mestrallet’s decision to take a step back from the platform would make negotiations simpler.

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