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Canal scores soccer coup

Paybox spends record amount on league

PARIS — In a winner-takes-all coup, Canal Plus Group has nabbed exclusive rights to French first division soccer for 2005-2008 for a record $793 million a year.

The sum reps more than half the Gallic paybox spends on programming for its premium channel, some $1.322 billion annually.

It is also the highest amount for a European league, even though the French championship is rated just fifth.

But while dearly paid for, Canal Plus’ pact with France’s Professional Football League acheives a major coup for the paybox — by leaving rival French pay TV operator TPS with no French first division football at all.

Canal Plus bid the highest price in each of four lots that had been up for grabs, the League said, announcing the deal Friday.

Previously Canal Plus held the lion’s share of rights, at a cost of around $475 million a year, with TPS having access to some matches.

The new deal, which reps considerably more than Canal Plus spends on all of its Hollywood output deals put together, is undoubtedly going to put a dent in the paybox’ finances.

But boasting of its victory Friday, Canal Plus Group insisted “this investment creates the conditions for durable growth.”

Commenting on its failure to secure any lots, TPS said it had not wanted to “to sacrifice the company’s financial future, nor the interests of its subscribers, by participating in an unreasonable inflation of the cost of first division matches.”

The French pay TV market is the only one in Europe which has two competing platforms, forcing up programming and marketing costs for both of them.

Earlier this week, Jacques Espinasse, chief financial officer of Canal Plus’ parent company Vivendi Universal dubbed the Gallic situation as “dysfunctional”.

Canal Plus will of course be banking on the soccer boosting subscriptions, which stand at around 4.9 million including overseas subscribers. TPS has around 1.2 million.

Crucially, the soccer deal also improves the attractiveness of the paybox in the event of a sale or a not-to-be-ruled-out merger with TPS.

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