Canal Plus bows first free-to-air digital terrestrial TV in Nov.

Gallic pay TV giant Canal Plus Group has caused consternation in the local TV biz by announcing it will bow its first free-to-air digital terrestrial TV channel in November.

Canal 20, focused on film, original content and sport, will have an annual budget of around €100 million ($141 million), making it the country’s wealthiest DTT channel.

The news sparked protests from commercial nets TF1 and M6 who fear Canal Plus Group, which already has the pay TV monopoly, will also control the free-to-air landscape and impact advertising revenues because it has more leverage to negotiate output deals with U.S. studios.

Canal Plus Group also owns four satellite channels and it recently signed a 50-50 joint venture with its former pay TV rival Orange Cinema Series to co-own TPS Star and merge it into a new premium pay TV channel, Orange Cine Star.

Moreover, Canal Plus has close ties with the French film industry and could potentially squeeze out TF1 and M6 from negotiations by nabbing pay TV and free TV rights on Gallic films.

Gaul’s biggest private-sector networks, TF1, M6 and Canal Plus, are allocated bonus DTT channels to compensate for the expenses linked to the digital switchover.But the European Commission competition authorities opened a probe into this practice in November.

When asked whether he feared the EC would ban these bonus channels, Canal Plus Group CEO

Bertrand Meheut, declared that the “allocation of this free channel is fully justified and French authorities have already pleaded for it in Brussels.”

He added, “Since 2005, Canal Plus Group has spent $706.2 million for the digital switchover, including $282.48 million to convert the modems.”

The culture ministry has already expressed reticence over the creation of Canal 20 and could prevent its launch — but it would have to give Canal Plus Group an indemnity.

Meheut said Canal Plus Group had to gain ground in the DTT market and boost the quality of its offer, to ward off the threat of such services as Google TV, Apple TV, Hulu and Netflix.

“Channels who concentrate their programming slate on American series will be particularly affected by these new internet providers who will soon be able to offer these U.S. shows directly to viewers,” he said.

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