INTERVIEW with Bertrand Meheut

LE chair League of professional football deposited a “equitable relief” against fusion TPS-Cana* +. How do you interpret that?

I do not dare to imagine that the LFP uses this procedure to make pressure on the government in order to make modify in its favour the decree which governs the rights of football. If it were the case, I find that the customer that we are is not very well treated. One should not forget, without arrogance, the importance of Cana*+ for the whole of the world of football.

But the fusion reduced in fact competition, and thus possibilities of higher bid on the prices?

It is obvious that we were, in France, because of competition between Cana*+ and TPS, in a particular situation which made that we pay the rights more expensive than elsewhere (600 million euros per annum for League 1). In same time, the market evolved/moved considerably. Today, in numerical television with toll, the ADSL is the vector which develops more. However, on the ADSL, we are not titular distribution network. We face competitors which are themselves able to distribute chains. One finds some up to 50 in the offers “triples play” (telephone, Internet, television), and operators ADSL can plan very well to publish their own chains. In Belgium, in Germany, to the Netherlands, the rights passed from an editor of chains to a distributor.

You thus expect to see contributing the operators of télécoms at the time of the next biddings?

That will depend on the structuring of the batches. But there will be competition. With TPS, Groupe Cana*+ will have a base of about 10 million subscribers. Opposite, the number of connections to the Internet high flow represents approximately 13 million lines, it is as many potential subscribers on television by ADSL in the long term. The attractivity of football is such as this one will be able to cause appetites which one does not suspect today. That being, on the level of price at which one arrived on the ****, the economy of the diffusion of the championship of League 1 is a saving in paying chain. It seems impossible to to me to make profitable these rights on a free chain. See TF1: it created an event with the World cup, which drained a very broad audience; but it did not make profitable the event as such, on the only advertising incomes, however considerable. I am very attentive with what will occur, because, for Cana*+, the product football is absolutely essential. I will not change my strategy. We are ready to give from the very important means in the acquisition of the rights.

Where is the integration of TPS in Groupe Cana*+?

Cana*+ the Bouquet is already available on TPS and by the end December, TF1 and M6 should be taken again on Cana*Sat. Until March, we will be satisfied to enrich offer TPS by the addition by some Cana*Sat chains. As from April, we will constitute an offer unified on the two platforms, by enrichment of the two bouquets multichaînes, and without change of price for the subscribers.

Which will be the social consequences of fusion?

The installation of the new organization will pass, I will take care of it personally, by all the stages of the social dialogue. Obviously, the teams know it, we have overmanning. We intend to reabsorb them on the basis of voluntary starting plan, which, I hope for it, will not need to be supplemented by additional reductions of manpower. We will use all the resources to offer reclassifications in the group, like in our shareholders Vivendi, TF1 and M6.

Will you keep two satellite operators, Astra (Cana*+) and Eutelsat (TPS)?

This stage, all is open: either the maintenance of two satellites, or the migration of all the subscribers on only one satellite - what would be a true rationalization, but which would have an enough considerable cost to reorientate the parabolas of the consumers (about 100 euros per parabola) who we let us be ready to deal with if it proves that it is the best solution. We examine also the assumption of the exploitation of our own satellite, like made BskyB in Great Britain.

Is the paying TNT, which does not take off, always a strategic axis for the swing with the numerical one?

We have already more than 150.000 subscribers to the offers of the Cana*+ group via the paying TNT, it is a very fast growth, about 1.500 to 2.000 subscribers per day. Takeoff depends on the availabilities out of decoders of paying TNT. This offer is determining to convert the customers with the numerical one, and we to this end await the renewal of the authorization of the SCA for TPS Star.

The operators of telecommunications estimate that TPS Star will become a chain premium with the reduction.

The subject was ana*yzed in detail by the Council and the general direction of competition, which presented very precise recommendations at the Minister for the economy. It was asked to us to maintain the level of premium quality of TPS Star, with a cost of grid corresponding to this quality. We pledged precise to this end on the offer of cinema and sport of the chain. We have there interest very as much as the operators of ADSL, since, on the one hand, we are obliged to sell “approximately” the chain with the distributors which make the request of it; in addition, we wish also to sell it “with the detail” with our direct customers, in particular on the TNT.

France Télécom has just obtained a subsidiary company from coproduction with films. Does that worry you?

If the operator of télécoms of reference invests kind, it is not only to give pleasure with the partners of the cinema, it is well to reach contents. The operators of télécoms constitute already their own offer, by buying on line sporting rights for the mobiles and of the rights of video to request (VOD) for example.

Do you fear that operators ADSL are tempted to make television a product of call?

We will be very vigilant. We do not have, us, the possibility of mutualiser our activities on various products, we make only television. For the moment, we concentrate on our trade of editor and distributor of chains, primarily paying, with a particular expertise on “premium”. If we see that an actor of télécoms important tie-beam deliberately in our trade, and endangered to us economically, we could possibly reconsider the question, to see whether we could also not to us “sponsoriser” our trade by making telephone and Internet, but it would be an extreme situation.

Now what your financial standing is you restored, think of taking again the international development of Cana*+?

Yes, completely. We look at all kinds of files. We wish to be opportunist while remaining reasonable. Vivendi is in this respect a very committed shareholder at our sides. With each time we proposed to invest in our development, as at the time of the biddings on the ****, Vivendi played its part.