France: operator cuts channel signal due to lack of distribution agreement

For almost a month now, the television channels of the TF1 group have been unavailable on the operator Canal+

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The channels and television services of the TF1 group have been unavailable on the operator Canal+ France since the beginning of September and with no solution in sight

In what seemed like a simple disagreement between a media group and France’s leading television and content operator, it quickly escalated into mutual court cases

Channels are available on French DTT… or not!

It all started with the negotiations for the renewal of the distribution agreement held between the television group and the operator. The agreement ended on 31 August and covered five of the group’s channels (TF1, TMC, TFX, TF1 Films Series and LCI), plus the MyTF1 streaming service. The media group wanted payment of seventeen million euros for the distribution of the channels and premium services on the operator, an increase of fifty percent compared to the previous distribution agreement

For its part, the Canal+ France group was not willing to pay this amount and, on 2 September, the broadcasting of the channels was cut for around 5.4 million customers. To get an idea of the impact, the TF1 channels immediately lost around fifteen percent of their average audience

On the same day, the operator issued a short statement, mentioning that the TF1 group was using its “dominant position” in the French television market to demand a “payment of a very substantial amount for its free DTT channels. Faced with these unfounded and unreasonable demands for channels that are accessible free to all and should remain so, the CANAL+ Group, a long-standing partner of the TF1 Group, is obliged to cease broadcasting these channels, as it no longer has the right to do so,” it ended

In fact, “La Une” has an outstanding position in the French television landscape. Unlike Portugal, where there are only eight channels in the grid (seven national channels and one regional channel in each autonomous region), the French European territory has thirty national channels (free and premium) and forty-three local and regional channels (available only in each department). Of the thirty national channels, the TF1 group is responsible for five channels. Moreover, TF1 broadcasts precisely at the top of the grid, and the operator considers that this position automatically gives an advantage to the private channel

TF1 Group quickly responded strongly to the cut in signal of its channels. First, it released a statement regretting “deeply” the operator’s “decision”, adding that Canal+ France did not want to accept a new agreement, “despite weeks of discussions and negotiations, choosing to deprive its customers of the channels and services they pay for in their subscription. The TF1 group remains open to talks with a view to reaching an agreement quickly so as not to further penalise the millions of viewers who receive the group’s channels through Canal+,” it stressed. It then launched a campaign to inform viewers of which means they can continue to watch the station, from news pieces in the station’s news slots to a social media outreach campaign

The Canal+ France group owns several free-to-air and premium television channels, as well as three television distribution services: Canal+ and myCanal, accessible through subscription with an operator or by renting a box, and TNT Sat, a free service that makes the French DTT channels available via satellite (the equivalent of complementary DTT by satellite in Portugal). According to the operator’s understanding, the distribution agreement allowed TF1 channels to be broadcast on the three Canal+ France services. While it is true that the TF1 channels remain accessible via French DTT, the internet and other operators, there are viewers who are not so lucky: those living in the so-called “shadow areas”, where DTT coverage is only via satellite, are prevented from accessing the channels because Canal+ France has also cut the television signals on that service. In all, there are about two million people, including outside Metropolitan France, prevented from accessing the channels.

Court says no obligation to restore signal

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The reaction of “La Une” was not only for the viewers: it even reached the court bar. The group argued that the three distribution services of Canal+ France are distinct, demanding that the signal be restored at least on the TNT Sat service, filing a summary case with the Paris Commercial Court. The operator, meanwhile, responded with another lawsuit against TF1, accusing it of abuse of a dominant position and discriminatory practices

The summary proceedings had an outcome last Thursday and did not have the result sought by TF1: the court did not order the restoration of the channels and even stressed that Canal+ France had no legal obligation to do so

On both sides of the barricade, the reactions were mixed. In a statement, TF1 said that Canal+ France is “fully authorised to continue broadcasting the channels on TNT Sat ” and that the transport of the signal on this service “does not give rise to any remuneration” for the group, and that it will also appeal “in order not to leave households that only have TNT Sat to receive DTT channels without a solution”. However, also in a statement, Canal+ France gave an ultimatum: it would only resume broadcasting the free DTT channels if it was allowed to do so “free of charge” for “all subscribers” to the operator’s services

The French government has said it will not interfere in the dispute, but earlier this month it asked Canal+ France to restore the channels’ signal on its satellite offering. In a letter sent to the operator’s CEO Maxime Saada, the French Minister of Culture Rima Abdul Malak considers that the signal cut-off “is not in line with the legislator’s intention” to “guarantee total DTT coverage on the territory by obliging channels to make their signal available free of charge to a satellite distributor that makes this request”. However, Saada believes that the situation is beyond the operator’s control:Canal+ transmits more than 150 channels in France, including all the other DTT channels without exception. We do not have these difficulties with the other players”, he stated in an interview.

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