The biggest exec shake-up in a generation at French pay TV giant Canal Plus is continuing with the axing of head of cinema Nathalie Coste-Cerdan. She has been replaced by Didier Lupfer, the former head of production and development at its Ubisoft Motion Pictures arm, set up in 2011 to adapt the likes of Assassin’s Creed for the big screen. Lupfer’s credits also include Joann Sfar’s well-received biopic Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life.
Coste-Cerdan is the latest exec to be shown the door at the venerable Gallic media institution. In recent weeks, French film and TV professionals have looked on in shock as Canal Plus chief exec Rodolphe Belmer, chairman Bertrand Meheut and a number of other execs have left in rapid succession. It is all part of Vivendi Chairman Vincent Bolloré’s consolidation strategy. The billionaire industrialist has spent much of this year tightening his grip on Vivendi and, by extension, Canal Plus. Bolloré emerged victorious at the French media giant’s annual meeting earlier this year, seeing off a shareholder rebellion and winning a battle over double voting rights that will allow him to move forward with his vision of turning Vivendi into a global player. The billionaire businessman, who nearly tripled his stake in the company to 14.5% in the space of less than two months, was presiding over his first annual meeting as chairman. By consolidating, and indeed increasing, his voting control, Bolloré is now poised to move forward with his ambitious plans for the company. Bolloré has now been named chairman of the Canal Plus Group supervisory board.
The French media is having a field day attempting to second-guess the shrewd businessman’s next moves. Canal Plus announced on the eve of Cannes that it would be sticking to its obligations to continue investing 12.5% of its subscriber and advertising returns in French and European films for another five years through 2015-2019. That move came despite the fact that feature films no longer have the same value on TV — pay and free — as in years past. Canal Plus accounts for some some 15% of France’s annual film production spend between $230m to $300m, so reps a major pillar of the filmmaking community. Amid dropping sub numbers, though – Canal Plus has lost 98,000 subscribers from the end of 2014 to June this year when it announced it had 5.5 million subs- execs at the outfit are under pressure to turn the tide.
Belmer is believed to have paid the price for failing to turn the company’s declining subs in time. The added competition of Qatar’s deep-pocketed beIn Sports, which is aggressively acquiring sports rights in France and beyond, has left Canal Plus needing to pivot its strategy from the traditional pay TV drivers such as first-run features and sports. A move into premium English language long-form content is now a priority, as witnessed by Canal’s co-production The Young Pope starring Jude Law with HBO and Sky as well as The Last Panthers, also with Sky.
Parent Vivendi is sitting on a war chest of up to $15 billion following a campaign of asset divestment by billionaire chairman Bolloré that has left the company re-focused on media through its two main assets: Canal Plus and Universal Music Group.
High on the agenda is believed to be an attempt to create a pan-European on-demand platform across France, Italy, Spain and Germany- and possibly the UK- that would not only rival but potentially surpass Netflix’s ambitions in there.