Cecile Frot-Coutaz Resigns as CEO of FremantleMedia to Join YouTube

Christopher Patey
Cecile Frot-Coutaz

The French exec was responsible for rebooting 'American Idol' and for shifting the global production giant towards high-end drama such as 'American Gods' and 'The Young Pope.'

In a shock move, Cecile Frot-Coutaz has announced her resignation as CEO of FremantleMedia, one of the world's leading television production companies, to join YouTube.

Best known as the producer of American Idol —which earned her nine primetime Emmy nominations—Frot-Coutaz has run London-based FremantleMedia since 2012.

Fremantle's parent company RTL Group announced her resignation Wednesday, saying the French executive “will leave the group to take on a new challenge. A process has been initiated to select a new CEO for FremantleMedia. RTL Group’s Executive Committee is in constructive talks with Cecile Frot-Coutaz for a smooth transition at the helm of the Group’s global content arm until her departure.”

Frot-Coutaz's contract with Fremantle is understood to include a 12-month termination period but it is unlikely it will take RTL Group that long to find her successor. She will head up YouTube's operations across Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA), working with YouTube's chief business officer Robert Kyncl, charged with growing content supply and further strengthening YouTube’s position across the region.

"I’ve always said that two things would need to be the case for me to consider leaving. First, and most importantly, Fremantle would need to be firing on all cylinders — brimming with creative excellence and unstoppable momentum. Second, it would take a unique challenge that offers me something completely new and different," Frot-Coutaz wrote to  FremantleMedia employees, in a letter seen by The Hollywood Reporter. "Both of those conditions have been met, and it is therefore with a heavy heart but unshakeable confidence in the future that I have decided to leave Fremantle and open a new chapter in my professional life."

The appointment is a major coup for the online platform. FremantleMedia’s content has been hugely successful online, with clips from the company's Idol, X Factor and Got Talent formats generating 20 billion views on YouTube.

As head of FremantleMedia, Frot-Coutaz also spearheaded a push into high-end television drama, greenlighting such series as American Gods on Starz! and HBO's The Young Pope and the upcoming My Brilliant Friend. She was also behind the successful reboot of American Idol on ABC, two years after the music competition ended its 15-year run on Fox.

"Cecile comes with incredible experience in the media industry. Her leadership, guidance, strong network and deep industry understanding will be invaluable as we continue to strengthen our partnerships and grow our creator base throughout Europe, the Middle East and Africa," said YouTube's Robert Kyncl on the hire.

It's unclear whether her appointment signals a strategic shift at YouTube away from shortform clips and toward the sort of higher-end production Frot-Coutaz is known for. 

“I would like to thank Cecile for her extraordinary creative and commercial achievements at FremantleMedia,” said Bert Habets, CEO of RTL Group, in a statement. “She has built FremantleMedia North America into the largest operation in FremantleMedia’s global network, serving also as executive producer of hit formats such as American Idol and America’s Got Talent. As CEO of FremantleMedia, she has successfully put creativity back in the center of the company over the past six years. With its expanding slate of high-end drama series and iconic entertainment shows, FremantleMedia is strongly positioned to grow significantly in the future. I regret, but understand, Cecile’s decision. All of us wish her the best in her future endeavors.”

Frot-Coutaz, 51, has been with FremantleMedia for 23 years, first at U.S. subsidiary Pearson Television, rebranded FremantleMedia North America, where she rose to the CEO position in 2005. In 2012, Frot-Coutaz took over as CEO of FremantleMedia's entire global operations, based out of London, overseeing some 3,000 employees working across 31 markets. Over the past five years she has built up the company's production, both in scripted and non-scripted content, and gone on a buying spree, taking strategic stakes in dozens of production companies across Europe, including Young Pope producer Wildside in Italy, Miso Film in Scandinavia (producers of upcoming Netflix drama The Rain) and Gurinder Chadha’s Bend It TV. Operating profits at FremantleMedia were up 8.5 percent last year to $172 million (€140 million).

“Decisions like this are never easy, but I know I leave behind a thriving, confident company with a terrific pipeline, dynamic global leadership, a supportive shareholder and, most importantly, a world-class team of creatives,” she said in a statement. “I go on to explore new challenges safe in the knowledge that FremantleMedia’s best days lie ahead."