PARIS (Reuters) – Vivendi’s pay-TV business Canal+ and beIN Sports are in exclusive talks over a distribution and licensing deal that would allow Canal+ to broadcast some of France’s coveted Ligue 1 soccer matches as it seeks to revive its subscriber base.
Traditional media companies like Canal+ are under pressure to find ways to bulk up their content as they face competition from deep-pocketed online streaming platforms such as Netflix and newcomers in the sports rights business such as Chinese-owned Mediapro.
Canal+, a particular focus for Vivendi’s leading investor Vincent Bolloré, built a reputation of broadcasting major soccer matches but ended up empty-handed in last year’s broadcasting rights auction for Ligue 1 covering 2020-2024.
The auction marked the dramatic entry of Mediapro, majority-owned by Chinese private equity fund Orient Hontai, onto France’s broadcasting stage. Its involvement helped to push up annual broadcasting rights for France’s top soccer league to a record of more than 1.15 billion euros ($1.27 billion)
Out of the seven lots offered for last year’s auction, three were won by Mediapro, including the one featuring the championship’s top 10 matches.
Under the current terms of the talks with Qatar-based beIN, Canal+ would exclusively sub-license beIN’s Ligue 1 rights for 2020-2024, allowing Canal+’s subscribers to watch two games on each match day, including 28 of the 38 top games of each season.
Canal+ Chief Executive Maxime Saada told French newspaper Le Figaro the company would pay 330 million euros for the sub-licence arrangement.
The pay-TV firm would offer all beIN Sports’ premium sports channels in France, according to a joint statement from the two companies, which until now were arch-rivals in the battle for sports TV rights.
Similar talks with Mediapro failed, Saada told Le Figaro.
“Indeed, we had started negotiations with our Spanish-Chinese friends that were more or less similar. But they stumbled on financial issues,” he said.
Asked by Le Figaro if the potential agreement with beIN Sports could mark the start of consolidation in the pay-TV sector in France, Saada said all scenarios had been discussed for a year with beIN, but that a commercial agreement was the best way to work for both companies.
The joint announcement comes two weeks after Canal+ and beIN said they had won the rights to broadcast Europe’s Champions League soccer matches in France between 2021 and 2024.
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(Reporting by Mathieu Rosemain and Gwenaelle Barzic; Writing by Matthieu Protard; Editing by Jane Merriman and Mark Potter)