Orange appeal will come in many flavors

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French telecom group Orange has announced plans to expand its empire via unprecedented triple-platform content deals and satellite coverage in Gaul over the next few months and in the U.K. by year's end.

After Monday's announcement of exclusive, multiyear deals with Warner Bros., HBO and Fidelite Films, France Telecom chairman and CEO Didier Lombard used a Wednesday keynote address to reinforce his subsidiary's multiplatform strategy and discuss plans to expand its coverage via satellite.

Lombard said the operator will launch its Orange television service with the newly acquired content "by the end of the year." "Content is the oxygen of my networks," he said. "I would like to try to show you that my networks can also provide you with a little oxygen."

Lombard said that, in addition to quality content, he hopes to give customers "absolute and universal flexibility and interactivity."

Orange's plan will allow subscribers of the group's new "Cinema Series" to access six premium channels via TV, the Internet or their mobile phones, with the ability to download programs from one format to the other. Content can be viewed after scheduled airdates via VOD, catch-up TV or mobile downloads.

Orange launched its mobile TV service in 2004 and has seen high demand for the technology. "What's unique is that Warner Bros. and HBO signed such a deal in France first," Orange senior vp partnerships and services Herve Payan said. "France is one of the most advanced countries in terms of mobile TV, so we're the ideal country to start this new content service."

About 98% of Orange subscribers access Internet and phone through ADSL lines, but only half of the population can also access TV via the technology. As of this summer, Orange plans to offer satellite TV to those regions unable to receive TV via ADSL. "It's revolutionary," Payan said. The offer will be available sometime between early May and Aug. 9, with soccer season in full bloom.

During a dinner Tuesday night, Canal Plus chief Rodolphe Belmer expressed concern over Orange's triple-platform TV service and the group's plan to offer TV via satellite, calling the new service a "serious competitor" in the pay TV arena.
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