Canal+ Series almost rushed to market but halted by Salto

Canal+ isn’t messing about when it comes to restoring its public image after 2019 got off to an embarrassing start, with the French pay TV operator launching a series-only OTT video service costing a reasonable €6.99 a month.

Just three weeks ago, we reported on the rumors of Canal+ making a surprise acquisition of Qatari broadcaster beIN Sports as a way of shaking off the humiliation of Netflix blasting past it, with local reports at the time stating preliminary discussions were underway. Suffice it to say, these rumors have since fizzled out, opening the floor for Canal+ Series to slide in as the latest business proposition to put pay TV losses behind it.

But first of all, nothing in the way of technology was released by Canal+ and not a single piece of coverage we have stumbled across has touched on the matter. We have reached out to a number of Canal+’s historically favored vendors, namely Arkena, Anevia, Harmonic and Nagra. Native French firm Arkena was the only company to respond to our queries and in fact shed some interesting light on the technology, as well as the politics surrounding the timing of the launch.

Given that Canal+ Series is essentially a relaunched version of the CanalPlay streaming service (confirming recent rumors concerning a relaunch), we assumed the underlying technologies would remain fundamentally the same. This has since been confirmed to us by French video technology vendor Arkena, a longstanding supplier at Canal+, telling Faultline Online Reporter that Canal+ is using its in-house platform with little public detail about third party vendor involvement.

That said, Arkena was issued an RFI in 2018 requesting a fast time to market, but then Canal+ decided to postpone the launch until March 2019 due to Salto not launching until the end of 2019 – the proposed joint SVoD platform from French broadcasters France Televisions, TF1 and M6. The frantic request was issued because Canal+ did not at the time have the resources for a rapid launch, so began surveying the market for vendors with experience in fast OTT launches. But then Canal+ realized a rush to market was unnecessary given the delayed launch of Salto, which could arguably be its second biggest rival in France after Netflix – so the operator decided to use its existing platform.

So, that means no Arkena CMS as we might have expected and presumably no Harmonic encoding services either, while Nagra never responded to our queries, as we know Canal+ has previously deployed Nagra’s MediaLive Secure Player on more than one million Android devices – which comes pre-integrated with Nagra’s DRM and anyCast PRM.

Canal+ also has a partnership with Comcast’s video ad management technology subsidiary FreeWheel. The Canal+ sales house, Régie, has integrated Freewheel’s Monetization Rights Management system and SSP platform to manage its live and VoD inventory more effectively for ad clients. However we know this isn’t in play as Canal+ Series is an ad-free service.

So, $7.90 a month will get you a single screen subscription, including 4K resolution, while two screens will cost $11.20 a month and four will set you back $13.50 – marginally undercutting Netflix.

The big differentiator of Canal+ Series centers around a complete absence of Hollywood blockbuster movies, although Canal+ Series has inked deals with US studios including Showtime and FX, showing 150 series in total at time of launch. French law is much laxer about series than movies, meaning Canal+ can offer up a live stream of a TV show immediately after it has aired on terrestrial TV.

An interesting element of entrant Salto is that it will include content from RTL, which owns M6, yet RTL is preparing the launch of 6Play, the M6 channel’s online version, being sold now both in and outside of France. But still, the trend of broadcasters trying to get back in on the act, in particular these two major initiatives, will bring pressure to bear on everyone in the French market.

Realistically, relaunching the struggling CanalPlay service was always a more likely comeback option than paying big for a foreign broadcaster like beIN, although expanding overseas is seemingly still on the agenda particularly for the myCanal app – as orders trickle down from Vivendi demanding global expansion.

Canal+ Series is the second European anti-Netflix initiative in as many weeks following Britbox’s debut in the US, yet the tie up between the and ITV is reportedly already seeing signs of friction – so is Canal+ Series destined for the same fate or is the French market more resilient to US influence?

As always, the proof is in the filings, showing Canal+ shedding 217,000 individual pay TV subscribers in France last year, and an additional 24,000 lost through wholesale partnership deals with Free, Orange and Bouygues Telecom. As a result, its total pay TV base fell to 4.7 million – gifting Netflix the lead now with a reported 5 million subscribers.