PARIS — Vincent Bollore, the controversial boss of media conglomerate Vivendi, strongly suggested Monday that he would soon step down from the supervisory board of pay-TV service Canal Plus, which Vivendi owns.
At a Canal Plus news conference, Bollore was asked to confirm whether he was on his way out of Canal Plus’ supervisory board, following rumors to that effect in the French press over the weekend.
“I will chair Vivendi’s board until Feb. 17, 2022. At Canal Plus, I don’t need to be much present,” said Bollore, just a few days after responding to questions in the French Senate about his allegedly overbearing influence on the editorial content of Canal Plus. Leaks have suggested that Arnaud de Puyfontaine, CEO of Vivendi, might replace Bollore as chair of Canal Plus’ supervisory board. Puyfontaine declined to comment.
“My role is to strategize in the long term for Vivendi, stay focused on objectives and give Vivendi enough time to see the results appear,” Bollore said. He added that if he hadn’t been chair of Vivendi’s board, he might have been ousted like former chairman Jean-Marie Messier considering all the criticism he’s received in the past nine months.
Bollore said Canal Plus was now in “good hands” and would soon return to profitability, just as he had told the Senate last week.
That statement was in stark contrast to Bollore’s claim, at a Vivendi shareholders’ in April, that he would consider folding Canal Plus’ six pay-TV channels if escalating losses continued. The declaration was interpreted as a lobbying tactic to scare France’s anti-trust board into greenlighting a distribution agreement between Vivendi and BeIN Sports.
But the anti-trust board rejected that deal anyway on June 9, leaving analysts to wonder what Plan B, if any, Vivendi was working on to jump-start its declining subscriber base.
A major change unveiled at Monday’s Canal Plus press conference– held at Vivendi’s headquarters for the first time to symbolize a newly “united” group, said Bollore — will be the drastic reduction of the free-to-air window on Canal Plus from a maximum of six hours to two.
“Canal Plus was the only pay-TV channel in the world to have a free-to-air window….With our new format we’ll be able to better showcase our talent exclusively for our subscribers,” said Bollore, who cited HBO and Showtime as successful pay-TV channels.
Gerald-Brice Viret, managing director of Canal Plus Group, said 95% of Canal Plus’s revenues came from subscription rather than ads on the free-to-air window.
“Starting in December, we’ll bring 150 more hours of exclusive programming to subscribers,” said Viret.
The flagship channel remains Canal Plus. But the group’s other channels – – D8, D17 and iTele — are getting rebranded as C8, CStar and CNews, respectively.
In terms of its investment in French films, Canal Plus Group’s CEO Maxime Saada said that since Canal Plus had not been able to seal its deal with BeIN Sports, the group was currently discussing with authorities to have the pay-TV window for newly released films (now blocked at 10 months) reduced. According to analysts, Canal Plus is asking to get movies at six months past their theatrical release.
Films will make up 40% of Canal Plus’ programming starting in September, and 90% of the movies shown will be expected to have sold more than 500,000 admissions in theaters.
Canal Plus signed an agreement with unions in 2015 that set its investment in French films at 1.2 billion euros over five years and that obligates the company to spread funds across a diversity of films.
Canal Plus is also continuing to bank on original TV drama. As many as 30 projects are in development, and high-profile shows like “Versailles,” “Le Bureau des Legendes” and “Baron Noir” have been commissioned for a second season. New English-language shows such as Paolo Sorrentino’s “The Young Pope” and “Midnight Sun” will soon roll out on the pay-TV channel.
Along with films and TV drama, sports is also a key incentive for subscribers. Even without its five-year deal with BeIN Sports, Canal Plus has rights to more than half of the French Premier League matches until June 2020 and the French rugby championship until 2023.
Bollore had reportedly promised the arrival of new talent on Canal Plus to replace the raft of hosts who have left the company, both voluntarily and involuntarily, within the last year. In reality, the pay-TV channel will welcome mostly returning talent, notably French star Jamel Debbouze, who broke through at Canal Plus in the 1990s before becoming one of France’s most bankable actors.
As in previous years, Canal Plus’s evening programming will include “Le Petit Journal,” “Le Grand Journal” but with different hosts (Cyrille Eldin, Victor Robert, respectively), as well as the new format, “Le Gros Journal” whose content was not clearly explained. It’s unknown whether the access primetime and primetime slots will remain free-to-air as they’ve always been since the channel was launched in 1984.