Canal Plus top brass used the occasion of an informal press lunch with their Universal counterparts in Deauville on Thursday to shrug off Credit Lyonnais' recent downgrading of Vivendi and Canal Plus stock.

"Credit Lyonnais should keep in mind its past Hollywood ventures," quipped Canal Plus chairman Pierre Lescure.

In an investor report entitled "Vivendi Goes to Hollywood: Mission Impossible 3'", Credit Lyonnais Securities raised questions over the viability of the Vivendi-Seagram-Canal Plus merger. It quoted both an over-rating of the potential profitability of Universal Music and Vivendi's Vizzavi internet portal and a lack of visibility concerning the strategy of the future Vivendi Universal combine.

Meanwhile, StudioCanal CEO Vincent Grimond also used the Deauville gathering to reiterate Lescure's intention to keep Canal Plus' film production and distribution activities separate from Universal Studio's own operations. "It makes much more strategic, political and financial sense," Grimond said.

After setting up distribution operations in Spain (through Warner Sogefilm), Germany (Tobis) and France (Bac Films Distribution), StudioCanal will soon sign a UK distribution deal with Pathe Pictures and an Italian set-up - with an undisclosed partner - is also nearing completion.

However in other European territories, such as Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, StudioCanal is considering various link-ups with Universal's distribution operations, as well as the use of the Universal Video network.

"We are discovering more means of working together every day," Universal Studios chief Ron Meyer told Screen International.

The lunch, an opportunity for Canal Plus and Universal execs to rub shoulders in an informal environment, also coincided with a Deauville screening of Universal's U-571, co-financed by Canal Plus and distributed in France by Canal Plus' distribution arm Bac Films Distribution.

  • Credit Lyonnais dealt a blow to Vivendi Universal earlier this week by claiming that Europe free-to-air broadcasters, particularly France's highly profitable TF1, stand a better chance of prospering in the digital future than pay-TV operators. "The more the television audience is fragmented, the more the value of mass market audiences will rise," said a survey conducted by Credit Lyonnais Securities Europe. The survey added that in a bullish advertising market, free TV channels are more likely to be in a position to finance internet and new technology ventures while maintaining a comfortable level of profitability. On the other hand, pay-TV operators are "driving straight for the wall", their bottom line bleeding in the fight to secure exclusive film and sports rights.