Courson taking charge at Studio Canal

Move follows exit of head of theatrical

PARIS — Senior Canal Plus exec Olivier Courson is poised to take operational responsibility for Studio Canal and step down as parent company Canal Plus Group’s general counsel.

Courson was appointed Studio Canal’s president in 2005. But since then he has spent most of his time thrashing out Canal Plus’ pay TV merger with TPS, which was made official in January.

Courson steered the group’s negotiations with the French film industry and the French anti-trust authorities, which imposed 56 conditions on Canal Plus when it OK’d the merger late last year.

With that task over, Courson will now turn his attentions to developing Studio Canal in France and internationally, according to sources, with Frederic Sichler, currently managing director, as his number two.

Changes will be announced following a managers and employees committee meeting on Friday.

In another exec reshuffle, Studio Canal recently parted company with its head of theatrical distribution, Stephane Celerier. Perplexing some in the French film biz, Celerier’s departure came at a time when Studio Canal’s theatrical arm Mars Distribution was doing rather well. Company was ranked third after Gaumont Columbia and 20th Century Fox in 2006, thanks to pics including Oscar nominated “Days of Glory” and the romantic comedy “I Do,” with Alain Chabat and Charlotte Gainsbourg.

Mars was renamed Studio Canal Distribution and is now run by Philippe Desandre, formerly of Warner Bros France. The unit will distribute 26 films this year including David Lynch’s “Inland Empire.”

Publishing its 2006 revenues on Wednesday, Canal Plus Group said that despite its strong French performance Studio Canal, a 100% owned subsidiary, made lower revenues than in 2005, but did not give figures. Canal Plus said the dip was mostly due to decreased income from its deal with Working Title.