CANNES — Completing its expansion across Western Europe, A&E Networks has inked a longterm strategic partnership with the Vivendi-owned paybox Canal Plus Group in France, the only major country where its channels are not present.

Unveiled at MipTV today, the Canal Plus deal covers pay TV channels, content, production and digital distribution.

A&E will roll out yet-to-be announced channels in the second half of the year on Canal Plus’ CanalSat satellite platform.

A&E is following rival Discovery Communications’ move into France. Discovery acquired a 20% stake in Televista in March to distribute its female lifestyle programming via Televista’s cable net Vivolta. It also announced a strategic partnership with leading commercial net TF1 Group last fall.

The A&E deal ensures CanalSat will have the content to compete with Discovery’s factual entertainment.

Pact also allows A&E to further penetrate the French free-to-air market, ramping up the distribution of its programs on Canal Plus Group’s free-to-air channels, D8 and D17.

“We have enjoyed a successful content relationship (with Canal Plus) and we believe this new partnership will create significant growth opportunities for both companies,” said Dean Possenniskie, managing director of A&E Networks for Europe, Middle East and Africa.

The deal follows Monday’s announcement of the upcoming launch of A&E’s H2 and Lifetime channels in the U.K. and South-East Asia.

Over the last 18 months, H2 launched in the U.S., Canada and Latin America.

The distribution of H2 and Lifetime in the U.K. and South-East Asia will drive up competition and impact advertising revenues and audiences share for existing channels, in particular Discovery’s TLC, which bows this month on Blighty’s BSkyB pay TV platform.

On the other hand, A&E Networks’ international expansion will open up new opportunities for indie producers looking to sell their shows.

“Part of our formula has been to take great U.S. formats and marry them with local sensibilities, local content and local voices, and so on,” said Sean Cohan, senior VP of international at A&E Networks. “You need content on the air from minute one that’s acquired and/or produced in local markets.”

Added Cohan, “Like some of our peers we’ve been operating these markets (South-East Asia and the U.K.) for a while (through other channels such as History) and we have developed the relationships and real competencies in these areas.”

H2, a twin-channel to History, will become available in the U.K. on May 4 and both H2 and Lifetime will bow in 16 countries across South East Asia in the next four months. Lifetime will launch in the U.K. by the end of the year.

Addressing the challenges that Lifetime faces in the U.K., Cohan admitted it is “a crowded market, with savvy audiences, tons of channels and a fairly mature market in terms of growth. Obviously it’s very developed in terms of drama and entertainment — so it’s a competitive market for acquisitions.

“We believe we’re bringing something fundamentally different, the market is big enough to support multiple services,” said Cohan, adding that “women are still underserved in the pay TV ecosystem.”