France Telecom to launch TV service in UK by year-end

France Telecom Chief Executive Didier Lombard said today that the company would launch its new Orange television service, showing premium films and series, in the UK this year. Asked at the MIPTV conference in Cannes, transmitted live on the Internet, when the Orange service would be available in the UK, Lombard said: “By the end of the year.”

France Telecom announced on Monday multi-year contracts with Warner Bros Pictures, HBO, International Television and French film production house Gaumont to broadcast their films and TV series. The move is a key plank of the telecoms operator’s strategy to expand beyond telephone and broadband services and become a distributor of media content via the Internet, satellite broadcasting and mobile networks.

Lombard said France Telecom had signed an agreement with Eutelsat to broadcast content to customers who could not get the operator’s triple-play service (Internet broadband, telephone and TV) via traditional ADSL phone lines.

France Telecom’s new Orange cinema series will be launched in France in the fourth quarter of 2008. Lombard told the conference the telecoms operator did not see itself as a direct rival to French pay-TV broadcaster Canal Plus, part of the media group Vivendi. But asked if France Telecom was breaking Canal Plus’s monopoly by entering the French premium films and series market, he said: “More or less, yes. The monopoly on pay-TV is over.”

France Telecom competed with Canal Plus this year to obtain the rights to broadcast Ligue 1 football matches on the Internet, mobile phones and its own TV channel. It paid 203 million euros ($319.4 million) for three of the 12 lots put up for tender by the French Professional Football League. Canal Plus won the remaining nine.

(Source: Reuters)