Digital, subs goal set by Canal Plus

French feevee wants 10 mil more viewers over 5 years

PARIS — Three years after Canal Plus proudly trumpeted a 36-month business plan, only to spend a chunk of last year warning that targets wouldn’t be hit, the French pay television giant is at it again.

At a meeting of financial analysts in Paris Wednesday, group chairman Pierre Lescure predicted that Canal Plus will increase its total number of subscribers by 10 million over the next five years. That would mean Canal Plus’ sub base would hit 24 million.

In addition, Lescure has set a 2005 target for all subscribers to be equipped with digital decoders, rather than the old-style analog decoders that have no interactive capacity. Some 40% of Canal Plus’ subscribers are currently equipped with digital decoders.

Refusing to discuss profits or losses for 2000, Lescure did venture that by 2005, the average monthly spend per subscriber for interactive and Internet services would be between $96 and $480.

Lescure confidant

Despite posting 1999 losses of $322 million, Lescure predicted that strategic choices to sacrifice short-term profits for long-term gains were correct.

Canal Plus and its main backer, Vivendi, are convinced that the future will combine content providers such as Canal Plus with interactive television services and Internet access via television sets, PCs and mobile phones.

With these elements being put in place, Canal Plus and Vivendi argue that having a critical mass of subscribers will be the key to dominating the European television and ‘Net markets.

The duo have inked a joint venture agreement with VodafoneAirtouch to provide a multi-access portal. The new venture, tentatively called MAP, would already have access to 70 million subscribers including Canal Plus’ current subscriber base and Vodafone’s mobile phone clients.

A sign of Canal Plus’ commitment to fast-tracking itself into the role of multi-access, multi-service provider, was made clear on Tuesday, when the group reported a $211 million provision to cover faster depreciation of the current set-top decoders in order to speed up the introduction of the ‘Net-top box.