Canal Plus CEO Rodolphe Belmer Ousted, Replaced by Maxime Saada

PARIS — Rodolphe Belmer, the CEO of Canal Plus Group, has been ousted from his post, which will now be filled by Maxime Saada.

The decision was made today by Canal Plus Group’s Supervisory Board, on the recommendation of Bertrand Méheut, the chairman of Canal Plus’ management board.

Saada joined Canal Plus in 2001 and previously served as executive vice president of Canal Plus Group and head of pay TV.

The board also appointed Grégoire Castaing, Canal Plus CFO, to Canal Plus’ management board.

Canal Plus made headlines yesterday, after rumors starting spreading about Vivendi boss Vincent Bolloré’s intention to pull the plug on “Les Guignols de L’info,” the paybox’s cult satirical muppet show. However, the shareholders board ultimately decided to maintain the 28-year-old show.

Update: According to the French newspaper Le Parisien, the four authors of Les Guignols – Lionel Dutemple, Julien Hervé, Philippe Mechelen and Benjamin Morgaine — were laid off on July 25.

Belmer, who worked at Canal Plus for 14 years, was regarded as a gatekeeper of Canal Plus’ editorial freedom and has cultivated strong ties with French film and TV talent, directors and producers. But in recent years, he also faced challenges in maintaining CPG subscribers in France – ratings sagged, for example, at talk show “Le Grand Journal,” transferred to access primetime — though customer losses in France have been offset by growth in French-speaking Africa and Vietnam.

Having been elected the chairman of Vivendi, Canal Plus Group’s controlling shareholder, in Novenber 2013, Bollore led a divestment drive that saw sales of vidgame publisher Activision Blizzard, Maroc Telecpm and French telco SFR, leaving Vivendi focused on its core content assets of pay TV giant Canal Plus Group, Europe’s second biggest feevee company, and Universal Music Group, the biggest music group in the world.

Having near tripled his stake to 14.5% in the company from February to April of this year, it looks like Bolloré is now flexing his muscles at Canal Plus.

As head of Vivendi Contents since January, Belmer was in the driving seat as Vivendi/Canal Plus Group attempts to redeploy into content production, distribution and data gathering. That certainly looks like an ambition shared by Saada.

“As globalization and global players take up more space, so does the appeal of regional and local culture, offering very attractive alternatives to the American dramas we love,” Saada told Variety in April, citing Canal Plus’ “Les Revenants” and “Braquo” and Sky Italy’s “Gomorrah.”

Establishing movie theatrical distribution operations in the U.K., Germany, Australia and New Zealand, under Olivier Courson and production alliances in the U.S. and Europe, Studiocanal has grown into Europe’s biggest movie production force, judged by production investment. This decade, it has also diversified energetically into TV production.

But building up a truly global content giant is, as Bolloré recognized, “complicated.”

“Belmer’s biggest legacy achievement was to build up Canal Plus’ original series production business from scratch, series that have an edgier appeal, not the family appeal of series on France’s public TV France 2 or TF1. That was absolutely essential: Canal Plus could not carry on relying just on soccer and its cinema. It needed other content,” said analyst Francois Godard, at Enders Analysis.

Canal Plus is a contents giant in France. It is pushing into English-language series production, such as “Crossing Borders” and “Spotless.”

To become a content giant in Europe would demand an alliance with its counterparts in other key territories, such as Sky or Telefonica for Spain. Canal Plus would also have to draw heavily on the U.S. talent pool of showrunner-writers to power up original TV productions all the more.

These challenges are known. The large question is just how hands on Bollore will now be in trying to supply the answers.

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