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Vincent Bollore Shakes Up Canal Plus Management

Named chairman of Vivendi and its crown jewel Canal Plus last week, the shrewd and hands-on Brittany-born tycoon Vincent Bollore has launched a vast shakeup of Canal Plus’ management to consolidate its business and streamline its operations with Vivendi’s.

Underlining his strategy in a letter to the company’s employees, Bollore said the paybox group will now be totally integrated into Vivendi along with the other major Vivendi subsidiaries, Universal Music and Dailymotion.

As such, Bollore, who became a majority shareholder of Vivendi in April and shortly thereafter got rid of Canal Plus chief Rodolphe Belmer, has proceeded to ax more key Canal Plus execs, notably the head of cinema Nathalie Coste-Cerdan, who was replaced by Didier Lupfer, the former boss of production and development at Ubisoft Motion Pictures (“Assassin’s Creed”). Bollore also tapped Guillaume Zeller to run the news and Thierry Cheleman as head of sports. The only remaining pillars of Canal Plus are Fabrice de la Patelliere, the boss of fiction, and Manuel Alduy who handles the company’s web and digital offerings.

Under Bollore’s leadership, Maxime Saada, previously third in command at Canal Plus, was upped to CEO, replacing Belmer. The company’s chairman Bertrand Meheut, meanwhile, was replaced by Bollore himself since the businessman now chairs both Vivendi and Canal Plus, and to some extent Jean-Christophe Thiery, a long-time Bollore Group exec, who was tapped president of Canal Plus directory.

As he seeks to break the walls between Vivendi and Canal Plus, Bollore has appointed a number of Vivendi execs to hold the same positions at Canal Plus: Frédéric Crépin, general secretary; Vincent Vallejo, audit director; Mathieu Peycere, human ressources director; and Stéphanie Ferrier, director of general services.

Bollore has knowingly been ruffling feathers in a big way at Canal Plus to enact his growth strategy.

“When we’re president of a big group, the easiest thing is to do little to not shake up habits and remain popular. As I wrote it 18 months ago, it’s not in my habits. I will therefore completely dedicate myself and will not seek to hide myself behind others to take necessary measures,” said Bollore in his memo.

While no one doubts Bollore’s business expertise, many industry figures deem his involvement in the editorial content as potentially damaging to the core identity of Canal Plus, which is all about daring to be politically incorrect and socially engaged through talk shows and original series.

Bollore reportedly attempted to fold “Les Guignols de L’Info,” the cult satirical puppet show, in July but after facing widespread criticism accusing him of threatening free speech, he decided to keep it on the air with a different creative team.

Since its creation by Pierre Lescure (now president of Cannes Film Festival) in 1984, Canal Plus has won over subscribers and built its brand with edgy, raunchy and thought-provoking programs which Bollore — who is known to hold conservative views — is likely to disapprove of and eventually discourage. The appointment of Zeller as head of news for Canal Plus and iTele (the group’s dedicated news channel) raised eyebrows since the exec is highly conservative and a fervent Catholic.

As Bollore tries to expand Canal Plus’ subscriber base with more mainstream programs, the main risk potentially losing the bulk of the existing subscribers and diluting the brand’s DNA.

Since Canal Plus accounts for about 25% of French movies’ financing, local industryites are concerned about the impact of the management shuffle and Bollore’s editorial oversight, according Florence Gastaud, general manager of ARP.

“Some producers worry that Canal Plus will concentrate its investments on more mainstream movies and turn its back on arthouse movies, and while it’s a valid concern, we are protected by a five-year deal which Canal Plus signed at Cannes,” explained Gastaud. She also said the pact specifies the number of films to ensure that the payTV channel spreads the wealth through a diverse array of movies.

Under the agreement, Canal Plus will have to invest 12.5% of annual revenues in French or other-European films and 9% on Gallic films shot in French — which represents approximately 1.2 billion Euros over the next five years.

Canal Plus’ films offer remains the leading incentive for subscribers in spite of falling ratings, according a recent poll conducted by Telco group Orange.

Meanwhile, Studiocanal, the thriving pan-European film production, distribution and sales arm of Canal Plus Group, has so far been spared from any shakeup.

Next up, Bollore will be looking at ramping up the export of its programs internationally, notably via OTT digital platforms such as the recently acquired Dailymotion, as well as developing more IP’s and expanding the company’s geographical footprint. Indeed, Vivendi is in negotiations to acquire a significant stake in the soon-to-be-merged Banijay and Zodiak group.

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