Universal Gaul haul

Former sibs NBC U, Canal Plus ink on output

PARIS — NBC Universal has inked a new multiyear output deal with Canal Plus Group.

The Gallic paybox gets first and second window for its French premium channel and thematic channels, as well as pay-per-view rights.

Deal’s duration was kept under wraps, although traditionally, Canal Plus has inked five-year agreements with its Hollywood partners.

With the deal U reaffirms a longstanding relationship with the French paybox. Although the two companies are no longer as closely linked as they were at the time of the Vivendi Universal merger, Canal Plus’ parent company Viv U retains a 20% stake in NBC Universal.

In December, France’s pay TV leader successfully bid a record $786 million annually for rights to French first division soccer. Last week Canal Plus signed a new 10-picture deal with Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp.

The flurry of deals follow improved fortunes at the formerly troubled paybox.

After a two-year overhaul, the company says that by the end of 2004, it had almost eliminated a $6 billion debt. Subs for its flagship premium channel were up 50,000 to 4.9 million — a net increase for the first time in three years.

But the hefty price Canal Plus paid for French soccer — far in excess of all its Hollywood deals put together — has raised eyebrows among wary Gallic media watchers.