Dual exits stun German biz

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"It's a complete shock," one local exec said of the surprise news that the heads of not just one but two of Germany's leading distributor-producers — Bertil Le Claire of Kinowelt and Fred Kogel of Constantin — were stepping down.

"There weren't even rumors beforehand," said the exec, a veteran of the German film scene. "Both of them are highly respected and have been great for their individual companies."

Le Claire helped rebuild the film group after it emerged from insolvency in 2003, nearly doubling revenue and putting the company solidly in the black. Kogel diversified Constantin's film-dependency by expanding into TV production and shored up its licensing business, ensuring a steady rate of solid returns.

But the one-two exit of Kogel and Le Claire says less about the pair's management skills and more about the ongoing consolidation in the German industry.

French giant StudioCanal acquired Kinowelt for €70 million ($110 million) in January in a move to establish a distribution beachhead in the German market.

Constantin is playing a supporting role in the planned merger of its majority shareholder — Swiss group Highlight — with Munich-based sports rights group EM.Sport Media.

While the Kinowelt takeover is a foreign invasion, the Highlight-EM merger is very homegrown. It has been carefully orchestrated by Leo Kirch — the octogenarian mogul who is slowly moving to rebuild the media empire he lost when KirchMedia went up in flames in 2002.

The German cartel office has given Kirch the greenlight to begin the process of merging Highlight with EM.Sport Media.

Kogel is staying on as CEO at Constantin until the end of the year, when he steps aside for Highlight exec Bernhard Burgener.

Le Claire leaves at the end of the month. StudioCanal director general Romain Bessi will take over in the interim. (partialdiff)
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