TF1 exec takes fall for ratings drop

Takis Candilis' departure causing debates

Did Takis Candilis jump or was he pushed?

The exit last week of Gallic commercial broadcaster TF1’s deputy director general of programming has dominated French TV debate. Like many top exec departures, Candilis’ wasn’t really a surprise. But it still came as a jolt.

It’s also a sign of the times. A workaholic with a big personality, Candilis, known as “the Greek,” is a French TV production institution. He is the creator of the still-running 1989 cop-series classic “Navarro” and was TF1 head of fiction from 1999 before becoming deputy director general of programming in 2006.

TF1 traditionally keeps execs for decades. Candilis’ old boss, Etienne Mougeotte, who ankled in April, was TF1 Group veepee for nearly 20 years.

The circumstances of Candilis’ departure are well known. Beginning last year, he experimented with U.S. clones. Some bombed, such as the “Grey’s Anatomy”-ish “L’Hospital.”  Others — “Paris, enquetes criminelles,” a reworking of NBC’s “Law & Order” — are underperforming.

TF1’s aud share of 31.6% in 2006 plummeted to 27.5% last month. Even without the plunge, Candilis may have ankled TF1. He segues to a plum private-sector job, heading fiction production at the deep-pocketed Lagardere Ent.

There was reportedly little love lost between Candilis and new TF1 prexy Nonce Paolini, who pointedly failed to promote Candilis to Mougeotte’s job, which included oversight of not only fiction but sports and news. But Candilis’ departure also points up larger crises in French TV.

A key question for Euro broadcasters is how to battle the revival of U.S. series. Candilis reduced segment lengths from 90 minutes to a U.S.-style 52 minutes. But Gallic auds appear to prefer U.S. or true-blue French originals.

The other crisis turns around TF1 top management. Whammied by weak ad-market growth and TV market fragmentation, ad revs — announced Jan. 24 — crept up by just 0.6% in 2007 to $2.5 billion. With full results in, Paolini hosted a notorious conference call Feb. 22 with analysts in which he failed to place any markers on this year’s ad growth or detail strategic priorities.

Candilis is replaced by Laurent Storch, TF1’s former head of acquisitions. He’s highly regarded, having brought “CSI” and “House” to TF1.

“Though he faces a steep learning curve moving into production, Storch knows the international turf like nobody,” says Ghislain Barrois, acquisitions director at Spain’s Telecinco.

But Storch will need luck as well as judgment to turn TF1 around.

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