Canal Plus boss Pierre Lescure played down the idea of major strategic changes to his company's role in the European and US film industries following the trans-Atlantic merger that today created Vivendi Universal and returned PolyGram to European ownership.
"If anything we will be producing more films over there," said Lescure, who becomes co-COO of the newly hatched Vivendi Universal. "We will be maintaining all our relationships with people such as Bel Air and [Mike] Medavoy [Phoenix Entertainment]," said Lescure. "And StudioCanal may also produce more in English."
Lescure said that StudioCanal [the renamed content division that includes Le Studio Canal Plus and which obtained a separate stockmarket listing last month], "has every reason" to pursue its plans to build a network of production and distribution outlets that add up to a European studio: "We will be increasing the number of films produced in France and Europe."
"It is clear that we have a terrific facility in UIP," said Lescure adding that UIP would not be the right [distribution] structure for all the 30-plus films per year flowing from Le Studio. "What we are looking for is coherence, for each film to go through the appropriate structure." He said that he could foresee instances where films from StudioCanal would be handled by UIP and cases where UIP films would be better suited to StudioCanal's distributors. Lescure and Jean-Marie Messier, chairman and CEO of the new Vivendi Universal combine, both denied that Universal's recent commitment to a five-year deal with UIP was a hindrance to their room for manoeuvre.
While he confirmed that negotiations concerning an output deal with Pathe in the UK remained ongoing, Lescure, offered little comment on the future need for C+P, the looser European buying and distribution alliance with Pathe. Vincent Grimond, head of StudioCanal, said that the arrival of Universal within the group is expected to simplify co-financing of deals between the US and Europe. This would be likely to give Vivendi Universal more European rights than Canal Plus.
Similarly, Lescure would not be drawn on personnel changes at Universal Studios. But Messier reiterated his earlier statement about having the appropriate management in charge of each division: "No little Frenchies are going to be running a Hollywood studio."
In a statement the companies said the merger would create short and medium-term opportunities:
Patrick Frater IN PARIS also contributed to this report