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SFR Champions League win could deal blow to pay TV rivals

facade_campus_sfr_maxime_dufour__photographies_3Altice-owned French service provider SFR has reportedly secured the rights to Champions League and Europa League football, dealing a severe blow to French pay TV leader Canal+ and rival BeIN Sports, which currently share rights to the competition.

According to Le Monde, citing unnamed sources, SFR has secured all rights to both tournaments for the 2018-21 seasons for close to €350 million a year. Such a price would represent a considerable increase in the cost of the rights in France. The previous deals brought in about €160 million, including €140 million for the Champions League, with BeIN Sport paying €90 million for its share.

The deal wll be a blow to Canal+, which has continued to lose subscribers in its domestic market but which still can offer ‘first choice’ Ligue 1 matches, French top-tier rugby and Formula 1. It will also be a severe blow to BeIN Sports, which has built its offering around football, and in particular, the Champions League.

However, such a high investment carries a high degree of risk for SFR and Altice. The French operator has already seen its Q1 results hit by content rights costs. The company already holds the rights to English Premier League football in France.

SFR’s first quarter adjusted EBITDA fell by 5.1% to €820 million  with a reduced margin, down 1.8 points to 30.3%, in large part as a consequence of its investment in content and in costs associated with voluntary redundancies.

The operator reported revenues of €2.705 billion, up 0.6%, with consumer revenue growing only marginally to €1.77 billion.

SFR said that its content strategy was paying off, with its subscription video-on-demand service doubling its audience by 50%.

SFR is continuing to lose customers, 111,000 down on the same period last year. However, the operator gained 68,000 post-paid mobile subscribers, while a gain of 45,000 fibre customers partly offset a decline in its ADSL base.

Overall, SFR had 6.079 million fixed subscribers at the end of the quarter, down from 6.292 million last year. Mobile customers numbered 14.514 million, down from 14.865 million.

Separately, parent group Altice reported first quarter revenues of €5.932 billion, up 3.2%, driven by a strong performance from its Altice USA unit. The latter posted revenues of €2.166 billion, up 7.4% or 3.8% on a constant currency basis. Portugal Telecom’s revenue meanwhile grew by 0.2% to €573 million.

EBITDA was up 9.5% to €2.243 billion, despite the decline in SFR’s contribution. Altice USA EBITDA was up 31.2%, or 26.7% in constant currency, to €597 million, while Portugal Telecom’s EBITDA fell by 5.1% to €263 million.