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Canal+ outlines plan to rebuild French business

Canal+ has much work to do in France, and the pay TV group is rejigging activity in its domestic French market.

maxime saadaCanal+ France, the main asset in the Group, comprises the Canal+, Canalsat and Canalplay pay TV operations. It lost 542,000 subscribers, 9.1% of its total, in the year to end-September, leaving it with 5.4 million subs.

As the Group’s domestic market suffers, its international operations in Africa, Poland and Vietnam are all registering growth.

France, however, remains a key market to the Vivendi subsidiary, and an asset it wants to build into a world leading content and distribution group.

“You can’t be weak on our domestic market when you have international concerns,” Canal+ Group Managing Director Maxime Saada, said at press lunch for local journalists this week.

The group, he said, is working on adding more value to the premium Canal+ channels, and preparing the launch of a new news channel CNews.

To expand distribution and win new subscribers, Canal+ has changed its business model and introduced this week new offers. The TV and OTT subscriptions offerings, ranging from €20 to €104 per month, are now part of one same Canal brand and include the premium Canal+ channel for the first time, the replay service and an access to myCanal app.

Canal+ has also signed strategic partnerships with Free and Orange to get its channels distributed directly by the two operators.

“The goal is to amortise our €2 billion investment into content across the highest numbers of subscribers, and win over new segments of the population we didn’t address before” says Saada.

The Canal+ channel is at a crossroads. Its audience share crashed from 2.4% to 1.2% over the past year.

Having axed some of its non-encrypted slots, and transferred all news output to troubled news channel iTélé, the core Canal+ channel is now focusing on giving subs added value across key genres such as cinema, sport and TV series. Saada dismisses the idea the audience numbers are hugely important.

The Young Pope 3“Audience is not the issue for Canal,” he said. “The world has changed, Canal+ has launched spinoff channels Canal+ Cinéma, Sport, Séries, Family and Décalé, and leads viewing among its subscribers [in these categories]. We also must factor in the non-linear audiences, which are very strong on TV series like Braquo and The Young Pope (pictured).”

In the Canal+ Group world, which also comprises free-to-air DTT channels C8, CStar and I-Télé, the news channel is also at the forefront, and is about to be rebranded CNews.

The launch date of the new brand has not been disclosed, but the full-time news channel will have a more specific personality based on Canal+’s key expertise in sport, music, art and international matters.

ITélé has never been profitable, losing around €25 million each year, and “needs to be different from competitors BFM TV, LCI and franceinfo”, Saada says.

After a month-long strike centred on claims for editorial independence from Vivendi’s main industrial shareholder and  CEO Vincent Bolloré, iTélé is about to start again, exhausted and having lost audience share, and more than 30 reporters.

Canal+ Group has decided upon a new editorial model with an editorial director who will be independent from iTélé MD Serge Nedjar, who currently handles both functions. That new recruit is about to be named.

“The new news project will answer the question of how to be different without increasing costs,” Saada says. “The growth drivers will be areas that Canal+ is strong in, such sports,” he adds.

Efforts to rebuild the French operation will sit alongside those aimed at developing the international business, currently the main source of profit, in Southern Europe and Latin America.

Besides working with third-party platforms, Vivendi is a shareholder in Telefonica and Telecom Italia and plans to strengthen Canal+’s online distribution too, with the help of Vivendi’s video platform Dailymotion.

The international Dailymotion service will be repositioned and relaunched in April 2017, along with a new team. It claims 300 million unique visitors per year, but has been losing audience after removing adult contents.