Cecile Frot-Coutaz is stepping down as CEO of FremantleMedia to head up YouTube’s operations for Europe, Middle East and Africa. The surprise announcement Wednesday that she would leave production and distribution giant FremantleMedia after more than two decades marks the latest departure of a seasoned TV executive for a FAANG job.
Pan-European media group RTL, which owns FremantleMedia, said it was in talks with Frot-Coutaz to ensure a smooth transition and had begun the search for a successor. It did not specify when Frot-Coutaz would exit, but she is understood to have a 12-month notice period. Though unlikely to serve all of this, she will remain as FremantleMedia CEO in London until her replacement is found, continuing in a post she has held since 2012.
YouTube said it had recruited Frot-Coutaz – one of the most senior executives in international TV – as head of its service in the EMEA region, reporting to chief business officer Robert Kyncl. “Cecile comes with incredible experience in the media industry,” he said. “Her leadership, guidance, strong network and deep industry understanding will be invaluable as we continue to strengthen our partnerships and grow our creator base throughout Europe, the Middle East and Africa.”
YouTube is expected to launch its Red subscription service in multiple international territories this year. It has already been commissioning original content from the U.K., such as sci-fi series “Origin” from “The Crown” producer Left Bank. It also has a slate of original programming for its core ad-supported service, including the upcoming entertainment show “Training Days,” produced by James Corden’s Fulwell 73.
FremantleMedia has embraced digital distribution under Frot-Coutaz’s leadership, establishing almost 300 YouTube channels. In 2017, FremantleMedia content, including “X Factor” and “Idol,” registered 26.2 billion views. “YouTube is the voice of a generation and has become an integral part of the world’s cultural conversation,” Frot-Coutaz said. “The opportunity to be part of that conversation and to work with Robert, his team and the wider Google community was too good to turn down.”
In a message to FremantleMedia staff, she said she was leaving with “a heavy heart.” “I’ve always said that two things would need to be the case for me to consider leaving,” Frot-Coutaz said. “First, and most importantly, Fremantle would need to be firing on all cylinders – brimming with creative excellence and unstoppable momentum. Second, it would take a unique challenge that offers me something completely new and different. Both of those conditions have been met….
“Words can’t adequately express how proud I am of everything we have achieved together. More specifically, the work we have done in the last five and a half years has set us on a bold new course. Creativity and talent are firmly at the heart of the business, and that is where they will remain. This is a thriving, confident company with a terrific pipeline, dynamic global leadership, a very supportive shareholder and, above all, a world-class team of creatives. Thanks to you, we are stronger than we have ever been.”
FremantleMedia has extensive production operations throughout Europe. It also has an extensive international distribution operation. Under Frot-Coutaz’s leadership, the company has pushed heavily into scripted with shows such as “American Gods,” “The Young Pope,” and “Deutschland 83,” after having previously been better known for formats and entertainment shows, including the successful “Idol” and “Got Talent” franchises.
FremantleMedia posted revenues of €1.47 billion ($1.8 billion) in 2017. It scored a major win in the U.S. with ABC reviving “American Idol” for its 2017-18 season. In scripted, its production companies make high-end series including “American Gods” and the upcoming Rai and HBO drama “My Brilliant Friend.”
Bert Habets, who became sole CEO of RTL Group late last year, said he regretted Frot-Coutaz’s decision to leave but thanked her for her service.
“She has built FremantleMedia North America into the largest operation in FremantleMedia’s global network, serving also as executive producer of hit formats such as ‘American Idol’ and ‘America’s Got Talent,'” Habets said. “As CEO of FremantleMedia, she has successfully put creativity back in the center of the company over the past six years.”
Frot-Coutaz’s move is the latest departure of a senior executive from the traditional TV world in Britain for a New Media job, a shifting of talent and resources that has alarmed established players such as the BBC and ITV. Former Channel 4 controller Jay Hunt has moved to Apple, and former FremantleMedia and BBC executive Georgia Brown to Amazon.