Canal Plus no longer obliged to sell on free-to-air rights to major events
Canal Plus, the Vivendi-owned pay-TV broadcaster, will no longer have to issue a tender for free-to-air coverage of major sports events to which it has acquired the rights, following a judgement from the French competition authority.
The stipulation to tender free-to-air rights to properties covered by French listed events legislation was an obligation laid down in 2012 following the pay-TV operator's acquisition of the Direct 8 and Direct Star free-to-air channels from the Bolloré Group.
However, the new legislation rules that while free-to-air coverage of the listed events must still be maintained, Canal Plus is now free to shift the coverage straight to C8 and Canal Star, the names now adopted by the two channels bought in 2011.
The competition watchdog said that the legislation has been softened as a result of increased competition in the market, notably from Altice, the telecoms group that has landed rights to both the Premier League and Champions League.
Altice, according to the competition authority, adopts “a deliberate strategic policy of sports rights acquisition and which will have, after the planned takeover of [free-to-air digital terrestrial channel] Numéro 23, the possibility to reserve broadcast on its free-to-air channels of major events to which it holds the rights.”
Last season, Altice showcased free-to-air coverage of the Premier League and French basketball’s Pro A league on Numéro 23 in order to promote the output available on its SFR Sport subscription channels.
Examples of Canal Plus’ on-selling of free-to-air rights to events include the sub-licensing of rights to the Champions League finals in 2013, 2014 and 2015 to commercial network TF1 in a deal worth €2.5 million (now $2.8 million) per season.
Canal Plus also sub-licensed rights to the men’s handball's 2014 EHF Euro final between France and Denmark to France Télévisions, and struck a €350,000 deal with the public-service broadcaster for rights to the 2011 World Handball Championship final between the same two teams.
Other ‘listed’ events include: the summer and winter Olympics; matches of the French national soccer team; the opening match, semi-finals and final at the Fifa World Cup; the semi-finals and final at the Uefa European Championships; the Uefa Europa League final; the Coupe de France final; and in rugby union France’s matches in the Six Nations; the Rugby World Cup semi-finals and final (plus France’s games); the Top 14 final; and the European Champions Cup (if a French team is involved).
Action from tennis’ Davis Cup and Fed Cup, Formula 1’s French Grand Prix, cycling’s Tour de France and Paris-Roubaix, basketball’s EuroBasket and FIBA World Cup, plus the IAAF World Championships are also included in the listed events legislation.
Canal-BeIN Sports Meanwhile, the competition watchdog has relaxed legislation imposed on Canal Plus in 2012 in the wake of its controversial fusion with TPS in 2006.
The arrival of new players in the pay-TV sector has led the authority to allow Canal Plus to offer a rival premium channel exclusively within its sports package.
Canal was precluded from entering an exclusive distribution deal with BeIN Sports last year as part of a wider tie-up with its rival intended turn around its struggling pay-TV operation in France.
The new ruling is being viewed as a ‘part-victory’ for the Vivendi-owned broadcaster as, if Canal Plus was to take on the BeIN Sports channels exclusively in its offering, then it would still have the obligation to allow other operators - including the likes of Orange, SFR and Free - to offer the channels on an individual basis, in other words outwith a wider subscription package.
Isabelle de Silva, the president of the French competition authority, said: “A total and radical exclusivity would have been a bit too far for the internet service providers and the consumers.”
The new orders laid down by the authority run until the end of 2019.
Canal Plus welcomed the softening of the legislation, but was careful with its words, saying that it “takes note of this decision, which reflects the partial consideration of the Competition Authority of the previous and future disruption in the pay- and free-to-air television markets, marked by the rapid emergence of powerful competitors particularly active in the acquisition of audiovisual content.”