Viv U topper says Canal Plus 'in danger'

PARIS — Jean-Marie Messier, chairman and CEO of Vivendi Universal, hit back at Canal Plus and the paybox’s ousted prez Pierre Lescure by filing his own complaint Wednesday with French broadcasting watchdog Conseil Superieur d’Audiovisual, charging that the previous night’s takeover of the web by Lescure and the employees of Canal Plus put “the channel in danger.”

Vivendi said today that it found it “extremely shocking that the president of a television station would use the channel for his own personal ends, calling for viewers to unsubscribe.”

Tuesday night, after news broke that Lescure had been replaced by TF1 general manager Xavier Couture, the Canal Plus prexy took over the airwaves, calling Messier “a liar” and accusing him of running “a one-man show.”

Enraged Canal Plus employees took to the streets Wednesday, with a rally in front of the VU headquarters in Paris, blocking traffic and chanting “Lescure is president” and “Messier is a mega-liar.”

The demonstrators covered the VU sign on the front of the building with Canal Plus banners and waved banners with crude plays on Messier’s name.

“We will not accept this,” one Canal worker told Daily Variety. “Will we fight against this. The station is nothing without Lescure.”

Lescure arrived mid-way through the demonstration and made his way to the front stopping momentarily before entering the Vivendi building.

VU, however, defended its position and the position of its chairman.

“The departure of Pierre Lescure was not personal,” VU said in a statement. “It was a solely a monetary decision. For the first time in 17 years, Canal Plus lost subscribers last year and its de-subscription levels are rising. Furthermore, if Canal Plus was not supported by Vivendi Universal its financial situation would be extremely precarious.”

Still, there are a few more hurdles for Messier and his company to overcome before the brouhaha dies down. On Thursday the CSA will hear Lescure’s case that he was fired without cause, and the French watchdog will then question Messier, although a date for that meeting has not yet been set.

President Jacques Chirac and prime minister Lionel Jospin have also weighed in, saying they will seek to protect French cinema and French ownership of Canal Plus.

French daily Le Monde reported that former Axa chief exec, Claude Bebear, a prominent Gallic financial figure is seeking to mobilize Vivendi board members to rein in Messier or even replace him. Industry observers say that in one of the possible scenarios the positions of chairman and CEO could be split.

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