Canal Plus facing exclusivity probe
By Julian Clover
Published: November 16, 2010 12.52 Europe/London

The French competition authority, Autorité de la concurrence, is to continue its investigation into the amount of exclusivity enjoyed by Canal+ in the French pay-TV market.

The case began in 2007 when the authority’s predecessor, Conseil de la concurrence, received a complaint from Group AB and RTL9. This was later withdrawn, but following investigations by the council a further complaint was made by France Télecom, owner of the Orange TV operation, which have been rolled into a single inquiry.

According to the authority there will be no further investigation into earlier decisions made as part of the merger between Canal and its rival TPS, which received ministerial clearance in August 2006.

Three different types of exclusivity have been identified. The first surrounds channels originated by Canal itself, aside from the ten channels already released as part of the TPS settlement, and the subject of France Telecom’s complaint. Exclusivity number two relates to channels produced by companies that were previously minority shareholders in Canal Plus France, notably TF1, Métropole Télévision (M6) and Lagardère. The third group are some thirty basic pay-TV channels run by major TV groups including Universal, Disney, Fox, Turner and MTV, to which Canal has secured exclusive carriage.

In its complaint, France Telecom highlighted a cumulative effect, which ultimately would prevent other platforms from developing bouquets that would be attractive enough to the consumer.

The authority says it will pursue exclusives on channels part-owned by Canal, and those involving third party channels, in particular agreements made after the merger including clauses that were not notified to the minister. These include TF1, M6 and Lagardère channels and catch-up rights not made available for IPTV distribution.

Changes in the way the new authority operates means it is now capable of ruling both on the terms of the merger and on anti-competitive practices. However, it says that restrictions on exclusivity are incidental to the merger and their questioning would violate the earlier ministerial approval.

Complaints surrounding Canal’s behaviour towards AB Group and the bundling of Canal+ Le Bouquet and CanalSat have been rejected.