FRENCH PURSUE PROMISE OF PPV; Cable, TV giants positioned to begin exploiting Gallic market

An increasing number of Gallic cable and TV heavyweights are studying the potential of France’s pay-per-view market.

Just about everyone agrees with Canal Plus president Andre Rousselet that “pay-per-view is the future,” and several companies are now testing or prepping PPV experiments.

o Already up and running in northern France is a small-scale PPV system run by Region Cable, a subsid of waterworks giant and cable operator Generale des Eaux.

o Fellow cabler and waterworks service Lyonnaise des Eaux (via subsid Lyonnaise Communications) is to launch a two-month PPV experiment in the St. Germain region west of Paris, starting in March.

o Textiles and communications group Chargeurs took a 37% stake in Yank service Action Pay-Per-View last May and will gain further experience if BSkyB goes ahead with putting British premier league soccer on PPV in 1994.

o Canal Plus’ recent agreement with Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. to develop new TV services in Europe is widely thought to include future PPV channels.

o HBO is believed to be close to announcing a pay-per-view trial run in France’s third-largest city, Lyon. HBO exex are not commenting about the project.

“Everyone’s out there looking but at the end of the day there are only a handful of French companies who have the financial muscle to tackle pay-per-view ,” said one observer. “In addition, the current thinking in France is that PPV will not be ready for development until the cable system here becomes truly national.”

Bruno Delecour, marketing director at Canal Plus, agrees. “Pay-per-view was launched in the United States and Canada when cable was already well developed–it was the cherry on the cake. Cable here is far from being mature. We first need to develop cable.”

Others see it differently. If Lyonnaise Communications’ St. Germain test proves worthwhile, company president Cyrille du Peloux says he will move PPV national.

The Lyonnaise Communications test will offer pix at between 30 francs ($ 6) and 40 francs ($ 7) with some 20 films “including some major titles.”

Obtaining big-name films may be possible for a test period, but in northern France, Region Cable has found it virtually impossible to lay its hands on A titles.

Of Region Cable’s 200,000 cabled homes in the Calais zone, about 50,000 are using PPV and company exec Bruno Deloye says the current buy rate is around 15, 000 per month at an average spend of 25 francs ($ 5) per pic.

“We would like to offer blockbuster films but we don’t have access to them. It might be that distributors feel we are too small and the amount we can pay is too little, or perhaps they don’t want to upset Canal Plus by giving us a PPV window that would be less than the network’s 12 months after theatrical.” Without top-lineproduct, Region Cable relies heavily on B movies and porn pix.

Some observers believe that the position of Canal Plus will be all-important in the development of pay-per-view. At last month’s Beaune Film Forum, one of the key questions asked by French producers was how Canal Plus would react if films went first to PPV before arriving on pay-TV.

Canal Plus CEO Pierre Lescure’s reply was vague, but he opined that the network would “obviously pay less for films if we no longer have the exclusivity.”

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