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Canal Plus forced to backtrack on Covid-19 free access initiative

A microphone of the French TV Canal Plus is pictured during the French L1 football match between Nantes (FCN) and Lille (LOSC). AFP PHOTO / JEAN-SEBASTIEN EVRARD (Photo credit should read JEAN-SEBASTIEN EVRARD/AFP via Getty Images)

French-pay television broadcaster Canal Plus has been forced to backtrack on its initiative to allow its premium channels to be broadcast free of charge to customers of French telecoms operators until the end of the month as a response to the coronavirus crisis.

Canal Plus announced the initiative last Monday, but it became a source of consternation amongst commercial broadcasters, such as TF1 and M6. This led to an intervention from broadcast regulator, the Superior Audiovisual Council (CSA) and subsequent partial reversal on Friday.

The channels were made available on a free-to-view basis to Bouygues, Free, Orange and SFR customers with a set-top box.

The CSA instructed Canal Plus to re-encrypt the following channels from the morning of March 21: Canal+ Family, Canal+ Cinema, Canal+ Sport and Canal+ Offset. However, it allowed the broadcaster to continue showing its Canal+ and Canal+ Series channels on a free-to-view basis until the originally scheduled cut-off date of March 31.

Canal Plus experienced a decline in subscribers last year of 195,000 to around 8.4 million. The coronavirus free-to-air initiative also, arguably, provided a showcase to help address that situation.

Last week, the Ligue de Football Professionnel (LFP) gave current rights-holders Canal Plus and beIN Sports access to a host of archive content for free following the postponement of 2019-20 Ligue 1 due to the coronavirus outbreak.