Canal Plus distribution for RMC Sport but Champions League debut hit by glitches
By Martin Ross
Canal Plus, the French pay-TV operator, has negotiated a distribution agreement for the Altice-owned RMC Sport channels, with the deal signed in time for viewers to watch last night's opening Uefa Champions League group-stage matches.
The agreement allows Canal Plus' satellite subscribers to sign up to RMC Sport's six channels at a preferential rate of €9 ($10.53) per month and without a long-term contract.
The positive news of RMC Sport's first distribution agreement was offset last night, however, as the service's over-the-top platform was hit by streaming problems given the large numbers of fans signing up to watch the Champions League action.
The RMC Sport (then SFR Sport) channels went live in the summer of 2016 solely on SFR’s own IPTV service and the (SFR-owned) Numéricable platform, as part of efforts to attract more customers for broadband and telephone packages.
Altice's deal with the Vivendi-owned broadcaster, which has just over 2 million subscribers via satellite, gives it access to a set of customers that might have been otherwise difficult to sign up to the OTT offering or via its SFR multiplay service.
New Canal Plus subscribers will be charged €19 per month for the RMC Sport channels, the same price set for the OTT service. The channels will also be available on MyCanal, the broadcaster's live streaming app and website.
As part of the tie-up, which was only signed off after lengthy negotiations, SFR has extended its distribution of the Canal Plus channels on its IPTV platform.
Along with rights to the Champions League and Europa League, RMC Sport's portfolio also includes England's Premier League, Portugal's Primeira Liga, basketball’s EuroLeague and Pro A, English rugby union's Premiership, athletics’ Diamond League and the fights of the UK's world heavyweight boxing champion Anthony Joshua.
Reports in France have claimed that Altice has been looking for a minimum guarantee price of €100 million per year in distribution contracts for the RMC Sport channels.
Canal Plus announced the agreement less than two hours before the first Champions League games kicked off yesterday and after talks intensified in the last two weeks.
Alain Weill, president of Altice Europe, told L'Equipe: "I was not sure this morning [yesterday morning] that we would sign. Everything was cleared up during the day, we made the necessary last efforts."
RMC Sport will now look to land distribution agreements with telecoms operators, including Orange, Free and Bouygues Telecom.
Weill, who this week claimed that the sports channels would be profitable by 2022 at the latest, remarked: "Discussions with other operators are continuing calmly. This first agreement could trigger others."
Streaming glitches RMC Sport's Champions League group-stage debut was marred somewhat by streaming problems that prompted widespread social media criticism.
The issues, which follow on from 'teething problems' encountered by the likes of Amazon, DAZN, Eleven Sports and Eurosport, included subscribers being met with black screens and delays of up to a few minutes in the live coverage as the RMC Sport app failed to handle the large numbers of last-minute subscriptions.
RMC Sport moved to appease customers last night by offering a month's free subscription to those affected.
Weill said: "We can have providers which at one point have a bug, a weakness, it's relatively inescapable. The service will improve to be perfect very quickly."
Altice's statement said that "the broadcast went well on the SFR box or for Canal Plus' satellite subscribers. The influx of simultaneous connections, which had been anticipated, was nevertheless more than had been anticipated given the success of the offer. Several hundreds of thousands of new customers have subscribed in the last few days."
Speaking on the France Inter radio channel this morning, Weill maintained that there will be "no problems" with tonight's Champions League coverage on RMC Sport.