Denis Olivennes, Canal Plus' director general and director of Vivendi Universal, resigned on Friday in protest at the financial pressures being put on the company by its chief executive Jean-Marie Messier.
The shock resignation - delivered in a three line note - rounded off a desperate week for Vivendi Universal and confirms for many observers that the giant media group is now in crisis. Discrete questions about the long term future of Messier, the architect of the group, are now likely to turn into outright cries for his head.
Last week began with Vivendi shares plunging to new depths. Financial analysts blamed a growing frustration with the lack of detail following the earlier announcement of the biggest loss in French corporate history, Euros13.6bn. In midweek newspapers reported that Vivendi Universal wanted to sell the UCI cinema chain to bring in cash. That was followed by growing rumours of a coup against Messier.
Three weeks ago Messier put Olivennes and Canal Plus chief Pierre Lescure in the firing line when he said that Canal Plus would have to return to profitability within two years or the executives would pay the price. But such rough tactics may have rebounded on him.
Some ten days ago Lescure and Olivennes, one of the key figures responsible for integrating the Vivendi, Canal Plus and Universal companies which were joined by the merger of December 2000, responded by sending an e-mail to all 4,000 staff.
They argued that they had done everything that had been asked of them and that they were being unfairly blamed for the ongoing losses. Olivennes particularly said that they were being asked to balance the books while Vivendi pursued an overly ambitious merger of loss-making Italian pay-TV operator Telepiu with Rupert Murdoch's Stream.
Messier's ambitions and ego seem to be too much for many within the group and for many investors. Many now speculate that either he will be removed or that Lescure will follow Olivennes. A board meeting on 24 April promises to be a lively affair.