With more than 5 million subscribers, Canalsat is the leading pay-TV operator in France and the second biggest direct-to-home operator in Europe behind BSkyB.
As part of the Canal+ Group, a major producer of French pay-TV channels and one of the top channel brands in Europe, Canalsat also will be one of the key players in bringing high-definition (HD) TV to France.
Maxime Saada, managing director of the Canalsat platform, talks with Via Satellite about what role he expects Canalsat and Canal+ to play in bringing HD services to a wider audience.
Via Satellite: Do you expect HD growth to really accelerate in France at some point or continue at a steady pace?Saada
: One of the key differentiators in France compared to other countries is that HD is now on several platforms, and this is only going to increase. We are offering HD over satellite as well as over DSL (digital subscriber line) with Orange. We are also offering HD over fiber with most of the DSL operators. In terms of [digital terrestrial television], the authorities will soon be deciding which HD channels will be on this platform. I don’t know of any other country where HD is on so many platforms. We have great expectations as far as the growth of HD in France. Every one of the [set-top boxes] that Canalsat now puts out in the market is HD compatible.
I think HD growth will be strong in France. Although today, we are very keen on HD, the offer needs to be developed further. … The problem with HD content is that it is still extremely expensive to produce. You are talking about a 30 percent to 40 percent increase in programming costs to make programs in HD. You have to change the whole organization, use different equipment, etc. Because of this, the number of content providers ready to produce a significant amount of programming in native HD is still relatively low. This extra cost is borne by the customer. We charge 9 euros ($12.30) a month for HD, but we don’t sell the box the way BSkyB does. The costs associated with producing HD content will eventually go down. As a result, the numbers of HD channels will increase. This is a supply market. When we supply the product, it is going to sell. Customer costs will also go down.
Via Satellite: Do you think the French consumer is really embracing HD?Saada
: I don’t think at this stage that we are completely embracing HD services in France. The numbers of households accessing HD services is still relatively small. However, we expect this number to increase quickly. The reasons we think this will happen is because the price of HD TV equipment is going down steadily, which will make it a very popular product to buy at Christmas. It is also worth noting that it not just acquiring a replacement set for the living room. People are buying TV sets for other rooms in the house. This gives us a double opportunity: HD and multiroom.
The reason why I don’t think customers have embraced HD services yet is that initially there has been a lot of confusion surrounding HD. Before HD was used as a label. We have asked a lot of questions to our potential customers, and we are seeing a lot of confusion in the market. A lot of people who have flat screens think they are HD, for example. The percentage of our customers who have flat screen TVs is very significant, but a large number of them are not accessing HD content yet.
We are seeing that even with customers that have taken up the HD option with us, they actually haven’t set it up correctly. For example, they are not using an HDMI cable. I can tell you of one extreme example, where we had one customer who took HD services from us, but still had a CRT television.