French broadcasting regulator the CNC has awarded a licence to operate a pay TV service on digital terrestrial to Cfoot, a football channel backed by the French football league (LFP). Two other bids - one from Canal Plus for Canal Plus Family and the other from DTT pay TV operator TV Numéric - were unsuccessful. The slot was made available when AB1 and children's Canal J withdrew from the platform last year.
The CSA said the LFP's plan would support 'a greater diversity of operators' and would give new impetus to the development of pay DTT in France.
The CSA's rationale for turning down Canal Plus, France's dominant pay TV operator, is clear. The group already offers its flagship channel, Canal Plus Cinéma, Canal Plus Sport and TPS Star on DTT, and is believed to have around one million subscribers via the platform. TV Numéric, an independent channel packager which recently combined with rival TNT Top (owned by UK's Top Up TV), appears to have been viewed as less promising than Cfoot.
At this stage, however, the content of Cfoot is uncertain. From next season, the LFP has the rights to all but one of the weekly matches in the second division. Rights to the first division are currently held by Canal Plus and Orange in contracts running to the end of 2011/12.
While some observers have questioned whether the league's statutes give it the ability to operate a pay TV channel, a statement said all of its member clubs support the move. One, Bordeaux, is owned by the M6 TV group, so the LFP is not without boardroom know-how.
Orange is unlikely to bid to renew its €208m a year contract for Ligue 1 and Canal Plus (paying €460m a year) would probably seek to negotiate a lower payment. However, the positive CSA decision may drive the LFP to make firm plans to exploit Ligue 1 rights itself from the 2012/3 season and not put the rights out to tender at all.
The Dutch league launched its own channel, Eredivisie Live, in 2008 in partnership with Endemol. The channel is distributed on a third-party basis by most operators in the Netherlands, on digital cable, satellite and IPTV. According to Endemol, the channel has been profitable from an early stage, and is more than half-way to its target of 600,000 subscribers after five seasons.
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