Canal Plus Revamps Pay-TV Plans to Double Subscribers, Widen Scope

Elsa Keslassy
Variety

PARIS– After unveiling deals with major French telco operators Free and Orange, Vivendi-owned pay-TV company Canal Plus Group has unveiled six new packages, in a big push to expand its subscriber base and turn around growing losses by 2018.

The company’s goal with these new initiatives is to double the number of subscribers by 2018, said Maxime Saada, CEO of Canal Plus Group, and Frank Cadoret, head of distribution, technics and information systems, during a press conference held at the paybox’s Paris headquarters.

“It’s an historical moment for the group. Last time we announced drastic changes was back in 2007 when we merged with TPS, but today the changes are even more radical,” said Saada.

Europe’s second biggest pay-TV operator, Canal Plus and CanalSat currently have a combined 5.4 million subscribers (as of June). Bringing in the estimated 3 million of subscribers from Free and the 1.2 million subscribers from Orange will allow the group to bring the total number of subs to approximately 9.6 million subscribers.

Brought together under the new umbrella Canal and set for a Nov.15 launch, the plans will boast a much bigger volume of content, combining the channels of Canal Plus and CanalSat, the group’s satellite-IPTV service (which will no longer be available as a standalone package), as well as pay TV channels from BeIN Sports to Orange Cinema Series (OCS).

“We have found through our surveys that content or the lack of it is the number one factor for which people subscribe or unsubscribe; the price comes second in most cases,” said Cadoret, who pointed out subs will now have access to France’s most thorough pay TV offer, notably 6,000 films per year (including 400 new releases), 300 series (including “The Young Pope,” “Midnight Sun,” “Game of Thrones”), and all the big sports tournaments.

Price-wise, the new offers – ranging from 19.90 Euros and 99 Euros — are not groundbreaking but do allow for more customization options. The previous Canal Plus subscription was priced at 40 Euros and included the flagship Canal Plus channel as well as four themed-channels (family, sports, cinema and series themed channels). That same package is now priced at 35 Euros for a 24-month commitment, or at 40 Euros for a one-year plan.

Canal Plus is also introducing a basic 19.90 Euros package which will only include Canal Plus main channel, Canal Plus on demand and the OTT app, MyCanal. The other packages will be dedicated to sports (49.9 Euros), cinema/series (39.9 Euros), family programming (49.8 million Euros), and the integral plan which includes all 57 channels (99 Euros).

Aiming to reach millennials, the pay TV group is also creating a cancel-anytime option but exclusively for users of Canal Plus’s tablets and laptops. Canal Plus is also giving subs the possibility to subscribe for 24 months, instead of a year, in order to get cheaper rate.

“We want to reach the widest possible demo which is why we’re striving to adapt to the tastes and financial means of all,” said Cadoret. “55% of people in France have never had Canal Plus, and we’re looking to bring them on board,” added the exec.

Asked about this year’s loss figure for Canal Plus, Saada declined to comment. Back in June, Vivendi’s chairman Vincent Bollore – who was MIA at the press conference — had estimated that the losses would amount to 400 million euros by year-end.

The French market remains highly promising, said Saada. “The rate of pay TV penetration in this country is about 25%, whereas in the U.K. it’s 60% in spite of a very rich free-TV offer,” said the topper.

The new mandate marks a departure from Canal Plus’s previous positioning as an upper-class-skewed service and its ambition to emulate the model of the U.K. pay-TV player Sky which has 12.4 million subscribers.

Following the announcement on Thursday, Canal Plus’s share price was 18.35 euros, a 1.5% drop.

Jean-Baptiste Sergeant, media analyst at Paris-based MainFirst, said he was skeptical about the new packages as they still seem too expensive to make a real difference. “BeIN Sports is priced at 13 Euros per month as a standalone, while Netflix is two times cheaper than Canal Plus,” said Sergeant.

Sergeant also noted the cancel-anytime option should be extended to all users, not just those who use the service on tablets and laptops, since most Canal Plus subscribers do so via set-top boxes.

The presser conference wrapped up with an exclusive promo of Paolo Sorrentino’s “Young Pope,” a co-production between HBO, Canal Plus and Sky Italia.

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