Struggling media group Vivendi Universal remains committed to its ownership of Babelsberg Film Studios, according to Thierry Potok, chief executive of Vivendi Deutschland and caretaker manager of Studio Babelsberg Motion Pictures (SBMP).

The sudden departure last week of SBMP CEO Gabriela Bacher, plus Vivendi Universal's ongoing attempts to raise cash by selling off key assets, had caused many industry observers to speculate about the French group's commitment to the German film studio complex.

Speaking at the Babelsberg 2002 conference for film and TV producers, Potok explained that the sudden dismissal of Bacher last week ( Sept 11) had been 'due to specific problems between her and myself as the representative of the mother company and did 'not in any shape, way or form reflect the strategy of Vivendi Deutschland. It does not modify the commitment of our mother company Vivendi Universal to invest and operate the studios.'

Potok pointed out that the German production industry was going through 'its worst crisis since the Second World War' and noted that 'Gabriela Bacher came in at a very difficult time and it is clear that she made great efforts to help the studio overcome a very tough situation'.

Potok admitted that 2002 had not been a good year for the studios 'but we have used it to reduce our fixed costs and lower our break even point.' He also dismissed calls in the German press from such industry figures as producers Regina Ziegler of Ziegler Film and Andrea Willson of Deutsche Columbia Pictures to boycott the studios as a show of solidarity for Bacher.

'After talk of a boycott, we have to say 'How would Babelsberg look today if it were not for Vivendi'' and, secondly, how constructive for Babelsberg would such a boycott be'', Potok commented.