French Antitrust Authority Halts CanalPlus, beIN Sports Deal

Vivendi chair Vincent Bollore

Vivendi's CanalPlus hoped to stem massive subscriber losses with the arrangement.

The French antitrust competition authority has rejected CanalPlus’ bid to become the exclusive distributor of beIN Sports on channels across the country.

Parent company Vivendi and chair Vincent Bollore had touted the deal as a way for the pay TV channel to stop losing subscribers and bleeding cash. While the parent company has billions in its deep pockets after a rash of sales of its telecoms holdings in 2013 and 2014, it is projected to lose up to €475 million ($538 million) by 2017 on the channel.

CanalPlus was seeking to lead in the sports arena by allowing the channel to bring back subscribers and boost its subscription price.

Bollore has brandished the threat of closing the channel, which would reverberate throughout the French film and television industry. He has already made several structural changes, ousting longtime executives, and taken cost-cutting measures such as killing its popular beachside Le Grand Journal program during the Cannes Film Festival.

The competition authority estimated that the deal would give CanalPlus roughly 80 percent of the sports rights.

The decision stems in part from the 2006 merger between CanalPlus and the former TPS. The competition authority says Canal failed to meet some of the antitrust requirements following that deal. The alliance between the No. 1 and No. 2 sports channels would be unfair to not only consumers but to the sports leagues themselves.

Newer channel competitors such as SFR and Orange, telecoms companies that have recently entered the space, opposed the deal.