Canal Plus rivals plead their case


BRUSSELS -- French broadcaster Canal Plus is facing a European Commission investigation into the alleged muscling out of rivals in the French pay TV market.

The commission -- the European Union's antitrust authority -- confirmed Monday that it has received a letter from France Telecom complaining about the pay-TV broadcaster.

France's dominant telecoms operator claims that Canal Plus has broken the 59 promises it made last year with the French Finance Ministry, the country's antitrust authority, when it merged with pay TV rival Television Par Satellite.

France Telecom insists it is not contesting the merger between Canal Plus and TPS but said that the behavior amounts to a breach of Canal Plus' commitment to offer its channels to France Telecom, which is keen to provide its own broadcasts through high-speed Internet connections.

The first part of the complaint concerns Canal Plus' pledge to offer other distributors its seven house channels: TPS Star, Sport+, three cinema channels (Cinestar, Cineculte and Cinetoile) and two youth channels (Piwi and Teletoon).

The second part concerns France Telecom's problems accessing thematic channels that do not belong to Canal Plus but depend on the broadcaster's subscription package. France Telecom claims its plans to build an Internet broadcasting service are being held back because it cannot access such valuable content.

Another part of the complaint relates to Canal Plus mobile services, which France Telecom's subsidiary Orange has not been authorized to provide, unlike rival operator SFR. Canal Plus is a subsidiary of media conglomerate Vivendi, which is also the majority owner of SFR.

France Telecom also insists that it was denied a "lasting agreement" to broadcast channels provided by AB, a subsidiary of French private broadcaster TF1, via its Internet television offering, Livebox.

However, commission officials were cautious about how far they could intervene in the case. They pointed out that Canal Plus' commitments last year were made to the French Finance Ministry, which still retains jurisdiction on domestic merger cases. The case could, therefore, be sent back to the French authorities for any action.