PARIS — Romain Bessi, who was COO of Studiocanal — the film and TV production/distribution arm of Vivendi-owned Canal Plus Group — is leaving the Paris-based company, Variety has confirmed.
Bessi is the latest in a string of high-ranking executives who have exited the company, both voluntarily and involuntarily, in the year since Vincent Bollore took full control of Vivendi and became chairman of Canal Plus Group’s supervisory board, in June 2015. Bollore has come under increasing scrutiny by French journalists and analysts who are questioning his strategic vision for the company and his management techniques.
Bessi is expected to depart in mid-July. For many years, he worked closely with Olivier Courson, the former chairman and CEO of Studiocanal, who was axed last September.
Speaking to Variety, Bessi said that “after 19 years working for Canal Plus, I just feel ready to move on and take on new challenges elsewhere.”
Added Bessi, “I had never worked so long for a company and now is the right time to close that chapter and do so in good terms.
The exec said he was fielding some job opportunities but hasn’t made up his mind yet.
Bessi’s resignation comes on the heels of the departure of another senior executive, Manuel Alduy, who left last month. Alduy was head of Canal Plus’ OTT and digital-creation division and previously head of the film department.
Just this week, Canal Plus lost two of its most prominent TV hosts, Maitena Biraben and Ali Baddou, though whether the pair were fired or left voluntarily is unclear. Yann Barthes, the pay-TV group’s most popular host, who presents the primetime talk show Le Petit Journal, is also departing, apparently to go work at commercial network TF1.
In July 2015, Rodolphe Belmer, the managing director of Canal Plus Group, was given his walking papers.
Bessi resigned on his own terms, according to the company’s spokesperson. One of Canal Plus’ most senior employees, Bessi joined the company in 1997 in the sports management division and moved up through the ranks until he was tapped managing director of Studiocanal. Since September 2015, Bessi reported to Studiocanal’s chairman and CEO, Didier Lupfer.
While Canal Plus’ pay TV channels have been losing money, Studiocanal has been the financial powerhouse of the paybox group. But its closer integration with Vivendi has made decision-making more unwieldy than in the past.
Bessi concurred. “It’s not a secret that we’re now less autonomous at Studiocanal than we’ve been. But if I had found it unbearable I would have left earlier.”
Bessi played a key role at Studiocanal as he also served as CFO and head of TV series. He spearheaded the expansion of Studiocanal’s TV biz across Europe with the acquisition of a 20% stake in Benedict Cumberbatch’s production company Sunny March TV and Urban Myth Films, both in the U.K., plus a 33% shareholding in Spain’s Bambu Producciones (“Refugees”). The strategic pickups were announced at MipTV, in Cannes, by Bessi and Lupfer.
Under Bessi’s watch, Studiocanal also launched U.K. television and film banner Guilty Party with RED Production Company, producer Spencer Millman (“Harry Hill’s TV Burp”), actors and writers Simon Bird (“The Inbetweeners”) and Jonny Sweet (“Chickens”).
Bessi’s departure was first reported in Satellifax, a French media newsletter.
Henry Chu in London contributed to this report.