Canal boss: Channels should finance mobile

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BRUSSELS -- Television channels should finance mobile TV distribution, not telecoms operators, Canal Plus head Bertrand Meheut said Tuesday, adding a new twist to the debate on the emerging technology.

Meheut argued that TV channels should pay for the network in the same way they fund the distribution of traditional television.

"If mobile phone operators pay for the network, they will ask for a substantial part of customer's payment in exchange," he told French financial daily Les Echos. "Some TV channels are liable to answer the siren calls of the mobile phone operators because they don't want to pay, but they should also be aware of the risks."

While mobile television is still in its infancy, Mihaut's comments suggest he expects it to become a battleground between telecom operators and broadcasters. Canal Plus is Vivendi's French pioneering pay TV broadcaster, so Meheut has a strong media backer if he is planning to take on the telecom giants. Indeed, the broadcaster has a track record of investing in other interactive services, including a texting application that lets viewers chat to each other alongside programs on Canal Plus channels.

Meheut called on his fellow channel heads to adopt a model that will reduce the cost of distribution to an annual €3 million ($4.1 million) per channel.

"There is no reason for us to be dependent on mobile operators for mobile television networks, like we are with television on the Internet," he said. "The costs could be reasonable and comparable with those already paid on digital terrestrial television."

Most of the mobile TV initiatives launched so far in Europe are small in scale and have been spearheaded by mobile operators. In a recent response to a French government consultation on mobile television, operator Bouygues Telecom said that customer subscriber fees should go to the distributors and to premium pay TV channels -- but nothing should go to free-to-air broadcasters, "like with cable and satellite broadcasts."

In South Korea, the global market leader, most mobile TV services are provided by broadcasters rather than operators. However, none of the Korean services appear to have generated much profit, and the entire network has been heavily subsidized by the Korean government.
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