PARIS Winning the rights to broadcast premiere league football matches will help France Telecom step up its transformation into an integrated multi-media group, analysts said on Thursday.
It also further justifies its plan to launch satellite delivery this spring, for those who cannot get TV over existing DSL phone lines, as part of the company's triple-play offering of Internet, TV and telephone.
Half of French residents cannot get TV over phone lines because they live too far from an exchange to get an adequate signal.
France Telecom, which trades as Orange, is hoping to unveil soccer TV prices in March and launch them commercially in May or June but the final timing has not firmed up yet, a spokeswoman said.
"France Telecom is not looking to launch a stand-alone satellite TV broadcasting service but simply a complementary TV connection via satellite as part of its triple play offering," France Telecom Senior Executive President Georges Penalver told Reuters in an interview on Thursday.
"The soccer matches will help us increase our viewership," he added.
France Telecom paid 203 million euros ($296.9 million) to get three of the 12 lots put up for tender by the French Professional Football League.
Pay-television firm Canal Plus, which had held the rights until now, won the remaining nine lots. Canal Plus is controlled by Vivendi, which also control France's second-largest mobile operator, SFR.
France Telecom won exclusive rights to broadcast Saturday night matches, matches on mobile phones and video-on-demand programs with highlights over the next four seasons.
The operator said it was likely to use its Orange Sport TV channel, created in September, to broadcast the matches but would also rely on media such as mobile phones and the Internet.
Acquiring premium content such as soccer matches and movies is part of France Telecom's strategy to retain customers and attract new ones.
"The noticeable entry made by Orange to get notably one core premium package shows again that the quest for exclusive live sports content like soccer remains key in the convergence evolution between telecom and media operators around triple play operators," Exane BNP Paribas said in a note.
Oddo said acquiring football rights made "strategic sense" for France Telecom.
Penalver said France Telecom was thinking about developing online video gaming and other Internet-based content.
It is also looking into ways to develop targeted Internet and TV advertising.
Shares in France Telecom, which published solid full-year results on Wednesday, soared on Thursday after the French government said it was not about to cut its 27.4 percent stake and place shares in the market.
The stock was up 4.34 percent at 23.58 euros by 1014 EST.
(Editing by Paul Bolding)