Canal+ chief talks up Africa’s potential

By Content Nigeria reporter
October 19, 2023


Africa could be the biggest opportunity for growth, according to Maxime Saada, chairman and CEO of Canal+ in France, speaking at Mipcom this week.

Maxime Saada

The boss of Canal+ told delegates during his keynote presentation that Africa “may provide the biggest opportunity to Canal+,” adding that the continent will become one of the main territories for the company’s production arm StudioCanal.

“We see Africa as probably one of the main continents for Canal+. We are the number one shareholder in [Africa-based broadcaster] MultiChoice and we see that as potentially the greatest opportunity for Canal+ in the near future,” he said.

“We see a lot of potential international development from there as well because everyone is looking for the greatest story to tell and, in Africa, we believe there are millions of stories that have not been told. Africa will be one of the main territories in the future for StudioCanal as well.”

Elsewhere in his keynote, Saada said the pay TV company “owes so much to Netflix” and he also talked about “survivors’ syndrome” helping prevent the business from “almost dying several times.”

Saada was discussing the struggles Canal+ has faced in its almost 40-year history, noting that the rise of Netflix was just one obstacle the company has had to overcome in order to stay afloat.

“One of the key elements regarding Canal+ is that it’s a company that has almost died several times,” he said. “Right after it was launched in ‘84, it was first believed it was a hit, but then a gigantic failure, and for a while it was on the brink of disaster. That happened several times over its history. I joined in 2004, and from 2002 to 2003, again Canal+ was on the brink of disaster. Then we had a very difficult time when I was appointed CEO as well.

“So you start to develop survivors’ syndrome. Is there a sense to us continuing in this environment?’ And when you think, yes, you should be existing, you develop some kind of survivors’ instincts. A lot of our actions have been driven by, and my actions have been driven by, my obsession for the company to survive.”

Saada praised Netflix for helping the industry to evolve and encouraging existing players to rethink their strategies and expand. “We owe so much to Netflix to be honest. We owe so much because they showed the way, they showed it was possible to have shows and movies travel, to build scale like they did,” he said.

Canal+ has withdrawn from the tender process for rights to show live games from Ligue 1, the top flight of French football, as the company has been taking steps to reduce dependency on local content. It leaves Amazon’s Prime Video and Middle Eastern streamer Dazn as the front runners in the auction.

Ligue 1’s domestic rights are predominantly held by Prime Video which shows eight games a week while Canal+ had been sublicensing two matches a week from Bein Sports for €330m (US$350m) a season but Canal+ will now not air any live domestic top flight football for the first time since 1984.

“Canal+ was a very French company, very dependent on a few rights. In 2018 we lost the rights and at the time our studies were telling us that half of our subscribers would probably leave if we did not have those rights. We were so dependent on those rights so, again, the obsession of the team was to reduce all our dependencies. We were too dependent on the French market,” Saada said.

In order to become less dependent on French content, Canal+ expanded into other sports like Formula 1 and rugby union’s Investec Champions Cup, before signing output deals with the major Hollywood studios. It then started integrating other platforms into its offer, including Netflix, Disney+, Lionsgate, Paramount+ and Apple TV+.

Now, Saada sees Amazon and YouTube as the biggest threats to Canal+ “because they’re so big and very efficient at what they do and their main business is not necessarily our business. So that’s a danger as far as I’m concerned, in the future,” the exec said.