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Canal, TPS merger rumored

PARIS — With the announcement that its digital platform had crossed the million-subscriber mark in Europe last week, Canal Plus stock was up more than 4% Friday.

Yet, it is perhaps the ongoing battle — and now continuing rumors of a possible merger — between Canal Satellite and arch-rival TPS that truly is responsible for the rise.

Last week, TPS adamantly denied press reports suggesting TPS topper Patrick Le Lay was seeking negotiations to bring the two competitors together. In a formal denial, TPS insisted, “This information is false, with no foundation. Doubling its objectives, TPS has proved itself a commercial success … whose main shareholders have approved unanimously plans for the coming years and have furnished all necessary funds to ensure the continuation of the company.”

Certainly, a merger would seem dubious, as this year has seen rampant competition between the two digital providers, with Canal Satellite doubling TPS’ numbers in France. Still, it looks likely that TPS, currently exclusive digital carrier of pubcaster France Television, will lose that right in 1998 as Canal Satellite appears to have government backing in its quest for access to state-owned nets France 2 and France 3. Industry speculation is that this could spur TPS toward negotiations.

But an interview published Friday in Paris daily Le Figaro, Canal Satellite prexy Bruno Delecour intimated that Canal Satellite is not yet ready to bury the hatchet through compromise. Ruling out any form of cooperation — save a full merger, Delecour said, “If there must be a common objective with TPS, it could only be a merger — it’s the only way for everyone to make money.” Anything else he said, “would only profit the weaker partner.”

A spokeswoman for Canal Plus said Monday that no talks were under way and that Delecour had expressed the views of the company by clearly stating the only way in which they would deal with TPS should an opportunity for discussions arise.

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