Vivendi Universal S.A. chairman Jean-Marie Messier completed the management housecleaning at French cable-TV subsidiary Canal Plus with the resignation of Pierre Lescure — its chairman and Vivendi's co-chief operating officer — on April 16.
Lescure will be replaced by Xavier Couture, a director at rival French television group Television Francaise 1.
Couture had headed up TF1's sports operation, which bought the French rights to the 2002 World Cup soccer tournament. Lescure will officially step down at Vivendi's annual shareholders' meeting, set for April 24.
"I very much regret that Pierre Lescure, whose creative talent has produced a new form of television, has decided not to continue the story of this exceptional TV and film group with us," Messier said in a prepared statement. "The current situation at Canal Plus is difficult. That is why I wanted to bring in a new management team headed by Xavier Couture, who is an undisputed industry professional.
"I am sure that, to the satisfaction of current and future subscribers, he will know how to put Canal Plus back on the road to success."
Lescure issued a statement in which he said he was "pushed overboard" at Vivendi.
Later, according to reports in the French press, Messier held an impromptu press conference in Paris and admitted to firing Lescure.
The decision was an unpopular one in France, where Lescure — one of the co-founders of Canal Plus — is considered a media icon.
According to reports in several French papers, Canal Plus employees commandeered the television network for about 30 minutes on April 16, ridiculing Messier and offering Lescure the opportunity to broadcast a tearful goodbye.
On April 17, about 1,000 Canal Plus employees protested in front of Vivendi's Paris headquarters, calling for Messier to resign.
Despite the public outcry, Messier's position at Vivendi appears to be secure — at least for the moment.
At a meeting with Vivendi's board of directors on April 17, Messier reportedly received the full support of the board.
Lescure and Messier have been at loggerheads for months over Canal Plus' poor performance — it has lost money for five consecutive years. According to a report in the Financial Times, the tension between the two executives came to a head at a company retreat in March, where Messier publicly dressed down Lescure and his second in command — Canal chief operating officer Denis Olivennes — in front of several hundred Vivendi executives.
Messier had reportedly given Lescure two years to right Canal Plus.
Olivennes resigned on April 12.