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MipTV: Canal Plus’ Maxime Saada, France TV’s Delphine Ernotte, TF1’s Gilles Pelisson Lay Out Strategy

Heavy Security at Cannes Film Festival
EBERT BRUNO/SIPA/Newscom

During a succession of keynote addresses at MipTV, Canal Plus Group’s chairman and CEO Maxime Saada, France Televisions’s president Delphine Ernotte Cunci and TF1’s chairman and CEO Gilles Pelisson spoke about strategic alliances with European broadcasters and streaming services.

Although Canal Plus Group has been impacted by the launch of Netflix in France and currently boasts slightly less subscribers than the streaming service, Saada said the pay TV company was open to distribute Netflix, Amazon Prime and even Apple as part of its offer. Under Saada’s leadership, Canal Plus Group previously made carriage deals with French telco operators Free and Orange to ramp up its subscription numbers.

Saada said he was looking to double the number of Canal Plus Group’s global subscribers which currently stands at 16.2 million, the bulk of which will come from international markets. He pointed out that the banner was also looking at a potential launch in Ethiopia which he said has 100 million people.

In France, Canal Plus channels have under 5 million subscribers, said Saada, who declined to give the exact figure. He said that while the figure for France was below Netflix’s count, Canal Plus had the advantage of having an average monthly revenue per customer of 44 Euros ($49.63).

Saada has been restucturing the Canal Plus offers with cheaper and more flexible packages aimed at millennials for the last couple years. The latest initiative is Canal Plus Series, an OTT service dedicated to premium shows and priced just under $7.9.

The exec said that “at one point (…) you’re going to have 50 or 100 Netflix-likes, and the consumer is going to be lost in a swamp, in a sea of 5 or 10 Euros offers. In that space, I believe Canal Plus will be resilient.”

Addressing the ultra competitive landscape and the upcoming launch of Apple, Disney +, among others, Saada said Canal Plus will need to do some belt-tightening in order to be “fit to fight.” Saada has already led the company to save over 400 million euros in the last two years.

On the content side, Saada said Canal Plus Group had already started working with streaming services, notably on “Safe,” Harlan Coben’s show with Michael C. Hall which premiered in France on C8 and had a global roll-out on Netflix. The French pay TV banner is also joining forces with Apple on the U.S. remake of its hit short-format series “Calls.”

Per Saada, the crux of the battle is allow French TV networks to own more rights on the content they finance. France is the only country in Europe where French TV networks can’t fully own content, even when they fully finance it.

“We believe that Europe is the only credible alternative to American culture, which is completely dominating today – even more so than a few years ago… To do that, we need to have some kind of ownership,” said Saada.

During her keynote, Ernotte also spoke about the necessity to increase the ownership of rights, especially now that broadcasters have to compete and negotiate with OTT giants over content. In the meantime, Ernotte said France Televisions has signed a three-year pact with French producers guilds in order to secure exclusive rights to content it commissions for a duration of 18 months. “That gives us a bargaining chip in dealing with online platforms like Netflix,” said Ernotte. It will also be crucial to secure fresh content for Salto, the future SVOD service which will be bring together content from France Televisions, M6 and TF1.

“Between the three of us we produce around 80% of France’s TV content, so we’re optimistic about the prospects,” said Ernotte, who mentioned Salto is expected to launch soon. It’s currently being examined by the French anti-trust board.

Gilles Pelisson, who recently announced that TF1 was partnering up with Netflix on its big production “Le Bazar de la Charité,” said he was also confident about the prospects of Salto.

“Everybody knows that Apple TV+ is coming, WarnerMedia is coming, Disney+ is coming. Beyond Netflix, beyond Amazon you’ll have a very good choice of platforms, and to have a local choice like Salto will also be appreciated by the French public,” said Pelisson.

He said TF1 was investing around 160 million Euros a year in drama, with an emphasis on local content such as “Pour Sarah,” “La Part du Soupçon” and “Le Bazar de la Charité.”

Pelisson pointed out that the TF1 channel boasted the largest market share (22.5%) on commercial target in Europe last year. He said that although TF1 is a strong French brand, the company has been developing its international footprint through the banner Newen which has acquired Nimbus in Denmark, Tuvalu + Pupkin in the Netherlands, De Mensen in Belgium and BlueSpirit in Canada.