Canal Plus at match point for sports web

Co. ready to acquire 60%

PARIS — Canal Plus is poised to acquire 60% of Pathe Sport, the Pathe group’s Gallic sports channel, amid plans to own it outright by the fall.

Though most Canal Plus execs are on a corporate retreat in Normandy and unavailable for comment, a spokesman confirmed that “the deal is not yet closed, but we expect the accord to be signed in the coming days.” No figures have been released.

Game for sports web

Canal Plus was forced to sell its stake in Eurosport to the TF1 group following the Vivendi-Canal Plus-Seagram merger. Ever since, brass has touted plans to launch a sports web.

In an administrative shakedown last February, Canal Plus group topper Pierre Lescure announced Michel Denisot would be divested of his managing director title and sent back to his previous sports service stomping grounds to do just that. Denisot is expected to helm the new channel.

Vivendi Universal CEO Jean-Marie Messier recently gave cash-strapped Canal Plus two years to begin operating in the black, and it is cheaper for the feevee to nab an existing sports channel rather than start one from scratch, especially if the purchase also cuts competition.

Although Pathe Sport lost €6 million ($5.3 million) last year on revenues of $15.4 million and does not project a profit until 2004, its satellite and cable subscriber base rose 15% last year to 2.2 million.

In acquiring Pathe Sport, Canal Plus gets the sports web’s broadcast rights to such events as the Masters Series, Wimbledon and Davis Cup tennis tournaments, the France and Euroligue basketball games and the Coupe de France bike race.

Good match

This would be a nice addition to its huge sports rights portfolio, which includes exclusive rights to soccer’s UEFA Cup games; the English, German, Italian and Spanish soccer championships; and equally shared rights, with TF1, to the Champions League soccer games. TF1 owns broadcast rights to the World Cup soccer games.

Separately, Canal Plus announced a 2001 net consolidated result of $32 million Tuesday.

Given the station’s new status since the Vivendi-Canal Plus merger at the end of 2000, it is impossible to compare these numbers with the previous year.

According to the terms of the merger, the French pay service turns its profits over to Vivendi, which gives Canal Plus an annual income based on the web’s revenues.

In 2001, the station’s revenues dropped 1.16% to $1.35 billion. This translates to $42 million after taxes and financial expenditures, or 3.3% of the revenues from subscriptions.

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