Is Vivendi looking again at building a network of European pay-TV operations. Julian Clover goes back to the future.
One of the delights of being a hack in the television sector is that if you wait long enough, then sooner or later events begin to repeat themselves. For example, it’s normally possible to gauge how well Sky One is performing by counting the number of episodes of The Simpsons currently in the schedule. The higher the number, then the lower the audiences will be for everything else.
Vivendi, if the current stories doing the rounds in the financial sector are to be believed, is looking to turn the clock back to the last century, so seven years, and establish pay-TV operations around Europe. Vivendi-Universal had purchased the French pay-TV operator Canal Plus, which in the late 1990s had built up a portfolio of interests in Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy Spain, Poland and Scandinavia. There was also an investment in BSkyB, which the EC ordered Vivendi to divest before its acquisition of Canal could go through. But under Vivendi the holdings were gradually divested and with the exception of Poland, Canal largely retreated to its home market.
The Canal+ brand remains the premier name in pay-TV, but licensed in a Virgin-style association, rather than through the travails of ownership. The loosening of the apron strings saw the near abandonment of mixed format pay-TV and the disposal of the colour-coding that gave Finnish viewers a channel with the best part of 14 letters in the name, not counting five more and the plus sign.
Last week rumours surfaced that Vivendi was taking an interest in Premiere. The German DTH operator has come out of the trough created by the loss of the Bundesliga, and with the football now back in the net, the autumn will see the launch of a new mini-pay package in Premiere Star.
For Spain’s Sogecable, whose profile remains higher than its Digital+ platform, it is the lack of football that is the problem. Sogecable has come under pressure since Mediapro acquired the rights to 39 of Spain’s 42 professional football clubs. According to The Business, Vivendi has instructed its advisors to consider a EUR4 billion break up of the firm.
Under the no smoke without matches principal, it would be wise to keep an eye both on Vivendi, but also NBC Universal. The peacock is once more opening its wings in Europe, aside from the ongoing development of CNBC, while News Corp’s Fox is examining chicken coups in the UK, Spain and Poland to name but three. Here we are talking about channel development, rather than new platforms, but the signs are that the appetite for new investment is alive and well.