PARIS– Netflix is launching today in France and has managed to sign its first deal for set-top box distribution with Bouygues Telecom.
Netflix will now roll out on Bouygues’ Bbox Sensation box in November. It will later will be available to Android TV Box users.
“We’re very proud to announce this partnership deal with the world leader in SVOD. We strive to improve our offer so that our customers can enjoy the best innovative content, whether at home or on the move,” said Olivier Roussat, chairman and CEO of Bouygues Telecom.
This first pact marks a milestone for Netflix’s French bow, because the deal allows it to maximize its impact in Gaul by reaching audiences via their set-top boxes.
Ironically, Rodolphe Belmer, managing director of Canal Plus — Netflix’ biggest local rival — was quoted yesterday in The Financial Times claiming Netflix would have a limited impact in France because “consumers are used to watching content on TV via a set-top box.”
Getting support from Internet service providers in France should be a priority for Netflix, per Richard Broughton, senior analyst at IHS Screen Digest.
“French telecoms groups have capitalised on TV services in a way which hasn’t been seen in most other countries worldwide, and they control the TV viewing experiences of many French households,” explained Broughton.
“If Netflix is not partnering an ISP, it is competing with the ISP’s TV service — and given the strength of French IPTV providers, this would place yet another hurdle in front of the online video service,” the London-based analyst added.
Netflix has been facing waves of criticism and resistance from local industryites. Many of them predict the service could weaken France’s film and TV industry by hurting local TV channels, including paybox group Canal Plus, which are compelled to invest a percentage of their revenue in financing Gallic and European content.
Local reports had predicted months ago that Bouygues would be an unlikely partner for Netflix. Indeed, the French broadband operator is part of the Bouygues conglom, which happens to own Gaul’s leading commercial network, TF1.
Bouygues is one of France’s five ISPs — along with Orange, Free, SFR and Numericable — and it ranks fourth in terms of subscribers.
Earlier this year, France’s biggest broadband company, Orange, was reported as being a solid candidate to sign a carriage deal with Netflix. But the group’s CEO, Stephane Richard, claimed the deal had been put on hold as the two parties had failed to agree on the financial and legal terms. Richard, however, said in a recent radio interview that Orange would be willing to renegotiate a deal with Netflix under certain conditions.
In France, Netflix’s No. 1 competitor is Canal Plus’ SVOD platform CanalPlay, which has deals with four ISPs, Orange, Free, SFR and Bouygues, and boasts a robust offer of homegrown and U.S. content, including TV series. Belmer said today in a radio interview with France Inter that his team had spent the night sifting through Netflix’s catalog of series and calculated that the U.S. platform featured 2,950 hours of series, compared with CanalPlay’s 3,800 hours.
Accessing French-language or locally produced content will also be key to ensure Netflix’s success and enable it to compete with services like CanalPlay or FilmoTV, the SVOD platform owned by Wild Bunch.
The U.S. company recently commissioned its first French show, “Marseille,” an ambitious period crime thriller created by Dan Franck, the co-scribe of Golden Globe-winning miniseries “Carlos,” and produced by Pascal Breton’s Paris-based Federation Entertainment. Netflix also bought rights to a popular French toon series “Wakfu,” based on Ankama’s vidgame, along with 100 hours of programming from Prime Entertainment.