CANNES — Canal Plus, faced for the first time with a serious pay TV rival, has decided to take the gloves off.
The television giant has issued its clearest warning yet to local film producers about closing deals for second-run rights with digital TV consortium Television Par Satellite.
Canal Plus chairman Pierre Lescure, interviewed in a French paper on Friday, noted that his company is not prepared to back Gallic pics only to see them head to TPS shortly after they have aired on Canal Plus.
Canal Plus has its own digital platform, Canal Satellite, and is in a head-to-head digital war in France. With TPS up and running, Canal Plus faces the first competition on pay TV rights since it was created in the early 1980s, hence Lescure’s gloves-off strategy.
In recent months, many French producers have been wondering which way to jump, given that on one side they have Canal Plus and on the other, all the terrestrial free TV channels that are backing TPS.
“Am I going to get into a bidding war between these two for a project, or am I going to have both of them standing over me with a very big stick?” one indie producer wondered.
Canal Plus has to invest 9% of its annual revenues in acquiring French pics, meaning the company ponies up around 800 million francs ($137 million) annually — making the pay cabler the key financier for the French film industry.
The web can air films 12 months after their theatrical release. TPS could show the same pics 12 months later. Lescure warned, “I am not going to pay for the fabrication and promotion of a film which will be consumed just after (us) by a competitor.”
Lescure added, “If immediately after the broadcast on Canal Plus, the second window is pay and therefore competing against us, I won’t buy the film.”
The traditional path of Gallic pics has been to Canal Plus, then to free TV then back to a second pay run.
Canal Plus execs, speaking to Daily Variety Friday, were at pains to stress that Lescure is not issuing an ultimatum to the French production community. “We’re talking about a competitive strategy here,” said Nathalie Bloch-Laine, head of French acquisitions.
If Gallic producers fall in line with Lescure’s wishes — traditionally Canal Plus has pre-bought practically all local pics — TPS’ only counterattacking option will be to acquire first- and second-run pay TV rights, keeping pics out of Canal Plus’ hands.
However, TPS has been struggling to get Gallic pics.
TPS general manager Cyrille du Peloux now says that he is willing to buy all pay TV rights (including pay-per-view) for a limited number of Gallic pics and has allotted some $17 million to this cause.
TPS has already sewn up rights to the next two pics from producer Jean-Louis Livi’s Film Par Film — in which TPS backer TF1 has a minority stake. TPS has ponied up around $5 million for non-exclusive pay-per-view as well as first- and second-run pay TV rights for Pierre Richard comedy “Droit dans le Mur” and Yves Angelo’s “Le Voleur de la Vie” starring Emmanuelle Beart and Sandrine Bonnaire.