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Inside Move: French paybox’s sinking subs

Content woes, coin pinch torpedo Canal Plus' group

Canal Plus’ troubled French paybox — its biggest cash generator — is expected to lose another 120,000 subscribers in 2003.

The bad news comes as parent company Vivendi Universal has ordered management to return the loss-making group to operational profit this year for the first time in seven years.

After 15 years of growth to a peak of 4.5 million subscribers, the Gallic paybox’s fortunes shifted in 2001, shortly after the merger of Canal Plus with Vivendi and Universal. It lost 70,000 subs that year and, continuing to parallel Viv U’s rocky fortunes, shed the same number again in 2002.

Locally, Canal Plus has had to contend with the growth of rival pay service TPS, now a serious competitor with more than 1 million customers.

But Canal Plus execs blame the worsening bleed this year on the poor programming choices of the past two seasons, made by a changing cast of faces as long-serving chairman Pierre Lescure and his successor, the subsequently ousted Xavier Couture, tried to kick-start the stalling channel.

Programming gaffes included a low-brow talk show and a lame “Osbournes” style fly-on-the-wall series with the French rapper Joey Starr and ballad singer Francis Lalanne, whose tackiness outraged some.

Co-managing director Guillaume de Verges, who like Couture was poached from TF1, says he wants to reposition the French web and bring back quality programming.

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