Henri Audet, founder of Cogeco cable, media business, dies at age 94

MONTREAL – Henri Audet, who saw potential in the TV industry in its early days and founded the Quebec-based Cogeco cable and media business, has died at the age of 94.

Audet founded what has become Canada’s fourth-largest cable company and one of Quebec’s largest media companies in 1957 with a TV station in Trois-Rivieres, Que.

His son, Louis Audet, now heads the business, which had consolidated revenue of $1.4 billion in fiscal 2012 and 3,500 employees in Ontario and Quebec.

Cogeco Inc. (TSX:CGO), Cogeco Cable Inc.(TSX:CCA) and other subsidiaries remain controlled by the Audet family.

Henri Audet began his career as an electrical engineer in 1945 with the CBC, but he wanted to be a hands-on player in the growing TV industry in the 1950s.

In 1957, he left the CBC for a career in private broadcasting and became president of Television St-Maurice Inc. in Trois-Rovieres in central Quebec.

“I think that he was a visionary because he realized all of the potential of the cable distribution industry,” said Andre Chagnon, former owner of cable competitor Groupe Videotron Ltee, now owned by Quebecor Inc.

“He was highly respected in the industry,” Chagnon said Monday, adding he was known as a “gentleman.”

He had the intuition that the industry was going to take off, Chagnon said.

“In our industry meetings, we always found him to be the wise one and he always had the talent to bring people back to order at the right time when they were off track.”

Henri Audet also played a role in bringing television from francophone speaking countries such as France and Switzerland to Canada, Chagnon said.

Chagnon recalled a battle in front of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission that favoured his company instead of Cogeco, but said there were no hard feelings between the two men with the outcome.

By 1976, Henri was chairman and CEO of Cogeco Inc., positions he held until 1993 when he turned over the business to his son, Louis. It wasn’t until December 2006, that he stepped down from his company’s board of directors at the age of 88.

Cogeco sold the last of its roughly half-dozen television stations, including Quebec’s TQS, in 2008.

Henri Audet received a numerous honours throughout his career and in 1984 was given the Order of Canada and was inducted into the Canadian Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame in 1993.

In 1980, he was a member of a Canadian delegation that travelled to Japan to study the future of satellite communications.

Jan Peeters, president of the board of Cogeco Inc. and Cogeco Cable, expressed condolences to the Audet family.

“Mr. Henri Audet was and remains a great source of inspiration for all the members of the extended Cogeco family.”

Control of Cogeco Inc. and its direct and indirect subsidiaries is held by Gestion Audem Inc., a holding company whose shares are held entirely by the members of the family of Henri Audet.

Cogeco Cable provides its residential customers with TV, Internet and home phone services.

Cogeco Data Services provides such services as data networking, e-business applications, video conferencing and data storage to business customers.

Cogeco Diffusion owns and operates 13 radio stations across most of Quebec and also operates Metromedia, which specializes in advertising in the public transit sector.

In July, Cogeco Cable gave itself a toehold in the U.S. market with a US$1.36-billion deal to buy a regional cable company, the first big acquisition for Canada’s fourth-largest cable TV company since its failed venture into Portugal.