Arm wrestling Canal + TF1: a rights problem that leaves viewers on the floor

the essential
The showdown between the Canal + group and the TF1 group stems from a problem of rights and two opposing visions of the broadcasting of free DTT channels. In the center, the viewer seems forgotten…

Can a television channel accessible free of charge on DTT invoice the broadcasting of its programs to third-party operators who use its signal on the decoder of their internet box or their application? It is this thorny question of rights which is at the heart of the disarray that is currently affecting viewers of TF1 and the other channels of the Bouygues group (TMC, TFX, TF1 Séries Films and LCI).

Since August 31, subscribers to Canal + or Canalsat satellite offers who would like to watch the channels of the TF1 group have come across a black screen with an explanatory message from the Canal + group, which says it is “forced to give up the end of its contract” at broadcasting channels. “The TF1 group has expressed its desire to thoroughly review its commercial requirements as of August 31, 2022. Faced with these unfounded and unreasonable requirements for channels accessible free of charge for all and which must remain so, the Canal + group is forced to waive broadcast these channels, no longer having the right to do so. “For the time being, everyone is sticking to their positions, especially since the Paris Commercial Court dismissed TF1 yesterday, considering that Canal + is not obliged to broadcast TF1 channels again on its TNT Sat satellite offer…

Already arm wrestling in 2016

In any case, this is not the first time that such a situation has occurred. “From 2016, on the occasion of the last renewals of their distribution contracts, the TF1 group and the M6 ​​group successively asked internet service providers (ISPs) and the Canal Plus group for remuneration for the provision and distribution of all of their services”, recalled the Superior council of audio-visual (CSA become Arcom) in 2019.

TF1 then won a first showdown in 2017 with SFR. The operator in the red square ended up signing an agreement providing for the payment of 20 million euros per year for the TF1 channels and their services. A similar agreement is concluded with Orange. But with Free, TF1 falls on a bone. The media boss of Free, Xavier Niel, refuses to pay and uses a trick not to penalize his subscribers: he invites them to use the DTT tuner integrated into the Freebox. By connecting the box to a TNT antenna, they can recover the channels of the TF1 group, which had little taste for the episode. Free and TF1 will however end up signing an agreement concerning the broadcasting of live and replays. Finally TF1, M6 and the ISPs and Canal will all sign agreements to put an end to the disputes which have sometimes caused service interruptions.

Similar standoffs took place with the NextRadioTV group in 2019. If the group which broadcasts BFM TV, BFM Business, RMC or Découverte and RMC Story in particular quickly concluded compensation agreements with Bouygues Télécom, the Canal Plus group and SFR , longer discussions took place with Free and Orange.

The viewer stuck between channels and ISPs

The historical channels also attacked Molotov, this innovative French application available for smartphones, tablets or computers which took them over. Molotov was forced to sign an agreement to be able to broadcast the TF1 and M6 channels in its paid offer.

“In summary, in general, the distributors consider that the publishers of DTT free-to-air services should make their linear stream available free of charge (with the exception of technical costs) because they benefit from free and rare resources. On the other hand, the majority of publishers of free-to-air DTT services consider that they participate, thanks to the notoriety of their channels, in the promotion of triple play offers [des FAI] and that they must therefore be remunerated in fair proportion to the value contributed. In addition, they recall that in return for the free provision of public resources, they finance creation via investment obligations in audiovisual and cinematographic production”, explained the CSA perfectly.

Since then, the audiovisual landscape has seen the emergence of powerful video-on-demand platforms (Netflix, Disney, Amazon) which are formidable competitors to the historical channels, which is moreover in a context of inflation. Still, it would be good for Arcom to take into account not only the positions of channels and ISPs but also – and above all – the interest of viewers who find themselves unfairly on the sidelines.