SVGE Analysis: Why Canal Plus is upping the stakes on 4K transmission

The satcaster is the first in France to massively convert its content to 4K in an attempt to compete with US-based OTT player Netflix, writes Catherine Wright in Paris. Canal Plus has always invested a huge amount in its programmes, allowing it to rival international players to some extent, most notably with cutting edge drama series like The Bridge or The Returned.

But at a recent press conference in Paris, the broadcasting group acknowledged that its strategy in coming years would become more and more technology-focused as well. Its main challenge is to hold on to its audience in an increasingly mobile and non-linear world, and as the competition with companies like Netflix hots up.

The US company launched a service in France last fall and announced that its first French drama series Marseilles will be produced in 4K. This puts pressure on Gallic groups to compete and Canal Plus is among the first to react. As group CEO Bertrand Méheut indicated, Canal Plus recently recruited 200 technical engineers, reaching a total of 1200, on a par with Netflix.

«Canal Plus has always shown and produced great programmes but as the choice of what’s available becomes limitless and the way TV is watched changes, we want to become an indispensable reference point for the viewing public,»  he explained. And one of the ways of becoming that reference point is by making the move to 4K.

On the tranmsission front, the satcaster broadcast the Champion League Final in Berlin in ultra high definition, via SES’ Astra 19.2° E satellite directly to OTT TV sets. Canal Plus spokesperson Ariane Esfandi confirmed: «We started testing 4K transmission in live situations and with a wide number of partners around a year ago. It is an ongoing process: the Champions League football match between Juventus and Barcelona is just one of many trials we have and will be conducting.»

In order to enable OTT access, Canal Plus launched a new settop box called Le CubeS, which enables the viewer to access programmes from any TV set, through a wifi connection.

But the broadcaster has gone a huge step further by deciding to produce all its new original dramas in UHD, and to gradually convert its huge Studio Canal film catalogue to 4K. This is a major undertaking as Studio Canal owns one of the biggest film catalogues in France, amounting to several thousand titles.

Canal Plus also announced that new video-on-demand content would be available in 4K on Samsung TV sets as from September and that it will be launching a 4K TV channel in 2016, which will be accessed through a fibre optic connection, provided by its telco partners SFR and Orange.

In coming months, it will also be launching a new profiling tool, named Suggest, which should enable viewers to adapt and personalise Canal Plus channel content to suit their own tastes. Again, the broadcaster is aiming to play in the same league as Netflix which is known for its highly performing profiling software.

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