Is Olivier Courson, once a game-changing chairman-CEO of Studiocanal, about to make a big media comeback?
Arte France, bastion of quality European TV, announced June 2 that its president, Veronique Cayla would step down on July 5. Candidates to succeed her, the French press has suggested, include Courson.
Arte France presidency is currently one of the plum jobs in French film and TV. Established in 1992, Arte is a rare case of a bi-national public broadcaster based, moreover, out of the two biggest film-TV powerhouse markets in the E.U., France and Germany. Broadcasting free-to-air in both, paid for by tax payers, and with a cultural remit, it is not exposed to a plunging TV ad market, nor has to meet minimum audience targets, nor sustain a flagging share price. Arte’s France’s market share is small, which allows it to make bold, original programming for two of the most cultured middle-classes in Europe. From 2015, moreover, Arte France has driven into international drama series co-production, partnering with TV2 Norway on “Occupied.”
Given that the Arte France presidency selection is kept under wraps, it’s impossible to know who’s thrown their hats into the ring. So speculation about that is catnip for the press. According to multiple French news outlets, Courson figures among a batch of candidates, along with, for example, Régine Hatchondo, the respected former managing director of French film export org UniFrance over 2009-13 before she became director general of Arte France in August 2018.
Demands made on candidates in the call for applications has, however, been made public.
Most notably, they should “present their past achievements in companies of a similar size or objectives” and field their proposals for “developing production, digital distribution and cooperation with organizations composing France’s public film-TV sector and European partners which today guide group strategy.”
Courson ticks all those boxes. An alum of France’s Ecole Nationale d’Administration (ENA), France’s Ivy League-style elite training college, Courson brought a large strategic vision to Studiocanal, which he joined in 2007, laying many of the foundations of what Studiocanal has become today, built on by Didier Lupfer and now Anna Marsh.
That included transforming a French production-distribution company into Europe’s premier film-TV studio, with movie production-distribution operations in not only France and the U.K. but also Germany and Australia and relationships with some of the world’s finest talent, such as Ethan and Joel Coen (“Inside Llewyn Davis”) and producer David Heyman. The latter yielding the “Paddington” franchise, its first movie becoming the most successful family film ever released outside of Hollywood. earning $282 million worldwide.
Also shepherding Studiocanal into drama series production, via the acquisition of stakes in Rola Bauer’s Tandem, Nicola Shindler’s Red Production Company and Søren Sveistrup, Adam Price and Meta Louise Foldager’s SAM Productions in Denmark, he also struck early digital deals, with Amazon for example, on Studiocanal’s powerful library.
Arte France is highly-respected and has co-produced dazzling TV series, the most recent, the Fremantle-sold “No Man’s Land,” a standout in competition at Series Mania. Yet its streaming presence, 400 hours of programs, no movies nor series, is currently limited.
Courson left Studiocanal in 2015, setting up his own company. It was just to launch when he was head-hunted by Edouard Philippe to serve as a senior advisor on culture, communications and digital regulation. Crucial to his remit was France’s expansion in the digital domain, a priority for French president Emanuel Macron.
If he were to get the top job, Courson is likely to want to build on Arte France’s potential, content and partnerships, taking it to the next level as a, or the, upscale European artistically ambitious VOD platform.
French public broadcaster France Televisions already teamed in 2018 to launch The Alliance, a production joint venture with German counterpart ZDF and Italy’s RAI. In December, it launched Okoo, a new on-demand children’s platform for France. Salto, FT’s delayed joint streaming venture with commercial broadcasters TF1 and M6, is now scheduled to launch from this fall.
Courson might of course not get the Arte France job. But the urge of France’s government and many top media executives in France to create European alternatives to U.S. global platforms looks to be as strong as ever.