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Canal Plus spring-cleans for fall sked

Subsid sheds employees, unveils new look

PARIS — French pay TV channel Canal Plus is the latest part of the Canal Plus Group to receive a makeover in a year of upheaval for the Vivendi Universal subsid.

It has shed 50 jobs, booting out a handful of its best-known presenters in the process, and on Aug. 22 execs unveiled a new-look fall schedule that makes radical breaks with the past.

The channel’s style and content have been shaped by programming guru Alain de Greef. But de Greef now has a strategic role on the Canal Plus Group’s management board and was nowhere in sight when the channel’s new chief, former head of sports Michel Denisot, and new head of programming, Alexandre Drubigny, presented the sked.

While Denisot is an old Canal Plus hand, the 34-year-old Drubigny is still considered a dangerous outsider and has been nicknamed the Drubinator (a play on “Terminator”) by some staff members.

The new duo has ditched long-running unencrypted flagship show “Nulle Part Ailleurs,” a 90-minute potpourri of chat, humor and current affairs that had slipped in the ratings, losing 24% of its market share last season.

In its place come shorter, comedy-oriented shows including “Burger Quiz,” a cheeky gameshow presented by one of France’s most popular figures, Alain Chabat.

Execs are praying the talented Chabat, who recently finished shooting the Claude Berri-produced “Asterix and Obelix: Mission Cleopatra,” will restore the pay TV channel’s supposedly lost pizzazz. Many preferred the channel in its pre-Vivendi Universal incarnation.

The new schedule, though, is more than window dressing.

With 4.6 million subscribers, one in five French households, the channel is reckoned to be approaching a plateau, so new programming is the order of the day.

In order to hold subscribers and woo back those who’ve deserted the channel, execs are sinking an extra 500 million francs ($70 million) into the channel’s encrypted schedule, which concentrates on movies and sport. The channel will screen 32 new movies, 30 of which have notched more than 1 million admissions at the French box office in the past season.

Some $14 million has been slashed from the unencrypted programming budget, which drops to $83 million. The total programming budget stands at $879 million.

Hyping the new-look sked at the briefing, Denisot proclaimed: “There are more new programs than ever before.” In a nod to the channel’s past, Vivendi U film and TV topper Pierre Lescure, watching in the wings, chipped in to remind him, “There were more in 1984,” when the channel was launched.

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