Orange suspends sales of Orange Sport as Appeals Court decision looms

Orange France is to suspend the sale of new subscriptions to its sports channel Orange Sport between the 24th and 31st of March, under court order following a ruling of February 23rd by the Paris Tribunal of Commerce that Orange must cease bundling the channel with its triple-play offer.

Orange has lodged a challenge against this suspension order with the Appeal Court, which is due to announce its decision on March 31st. If Orange is unsuccessful in its appeal, the company would be obliged to extend the suspension of new Orange Sport subscriptions until the decision of the Appeal Court regarding the validity of the ruling by the Paris Tribunal Court of Commerce is announced.

Orange Sport will however remain available to all customers of its pay-TV service 'Orange TV' (delivered via IPTV and satellite) who subscribed to the channel before March 24th, and Orange is setting up special screenings in 50 cafés in the main Ligue 1 towns.

The Paris Tribunal Court of Commerce made its initial ruling last month, after complaints were filed by rival telcos Free and SFR alleging unfair competition, as the football content on Orange Sport is only available to Orange ADSL subscribers, allowing it to win customers from its competitors. The court also ordered Orange, under penalty of EUR 50,000 per day for three months, to provide a wholesale offer to all distributors of TV channels, including Internet service providers, cable and satellite operators.

Orange had previously committed itself to investing EUR 203mn per year up to 2013 in acquiring the football rights for Orange TV, "in a context defined by rulings from the French Competition Council". Now, however, the company has decided that it will not purchase any further sports broadcasting rights until the Appeal Court has issued its ruling on the validity of the decision.

Orange France had 1.603mn digital TV customers by the end of the third quarter of 2008, of which 70,000 were subscribers to its new DTH service (with the remainder being IPTV subscribers), and recorded a 64.4% year-on-year growth for its digital TV service (IPTV and satellite) in the three month period.