Two years ago, in May 2017, Altice broke its piggy bank to buy the rights to broadcast European football competitions in France. Valid for the period 2018-2021, the package covered both the Europa League and the prestigious Champions League. To honour these rights and probably set a new audience record, Altice announced a few months ago that it would broadcast the 2019 Champions League final on the group’s flagship channel, BFMTV. Not everyone thought it was a good idea, though. The TF1, France Télévisions, M6 and Canal+ groups have all turned to the Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel (CSA) to challenge this programming.
After an initial review, the CSA first issued a warning, stating that the live broadcast of a major sporting event was not compatible with the agreement signed by the 24-hour news channel. Alain Weill, CEO of Altice France (SFR), however, did not accept this position. In a letter, he pointed out, inter alia, that BFMTV regularly broadcasts various major events live and that another news channel, LCI, has been able to broadcast some 2018 World Cup matches without any problems. Expressing its opposition to the CSA’s analysis, it stated that its channel still considered “that the live broadcasting of the Champions League final [was] consistent with its editorial policy, the regulatory texts governing it and its mission to inform the general public”.
The CFS therefore looked at the issue again. According to its reading of the regulatory texts, Altice must indeed “implement the measures allowing the retransmission of this event on a free-access television service”. However, the CSA also points out that ‘the Altice Group’s compliance with its obligation to make this event available to the largest possible number of people cannot lead the BFMTV service to disregard its contractual commitments. Article 3-1-1 of the agreement between the Commission and BFMTV stipulates that ‘the service is devoted to information, in particular economic and financial information’ and that ‘the programming may be supplemented, on Saturdays and Sundays, by rebroadcasts of sporting events’…”. There is no question of important live matches.
For Altice, ignoring the clear position of the CSA and maintaining the schedule for the match between Liverpool and Tottenham on 1 June would undoubtedly be synonymous with sanctions. To avoid this situation, one solution would be to fall back on another channel of the group, associated with a less restrictive convention. RMC Story, which has recently been broadcasting Europa League matches, would be the logical candidate. Alternatively, Altice could still assign the broadcasting rights to one of its competitors, but it is unlikely that management would agree to such a transaction.