Canal Plus Gains a Foothold

Planting a flag on its first U.S. commercial beachhead, Canal Plus U.S. Technologies said overbuilder WINfirst will deploy its MediaHighway middleware and MediaGuard conditional-access system via its fiber-to-the-home network.

By leveraging Canal Plus' relationship with Vivendi Universal's TV and film division, WINfirst said it will use the platform to usher in a spate of interactive-television applications.

WINfirst vice president of business development Shiraz Moosajee said pay-per-view and video-on-demand will be among the first applications the overbuilder will offer via the Canal Plus platform, though more are expected eventually.

Canal Plus, meanwhile, has hyped its TVL Viewing Lounge, a Web-centric music service it has ported to the ITV environment, showing it off at last month's National Association of Broadcasters confab.

WINfirst's partnership with Canal will allow the overbuilder to launch an open-standards based system and bring new applications to market more quickly that incumbent MSOs, predicted vice president of sales and marketing Bill Brovsky.

The first market to test that strategy will be Sacramento, Calif., where WINfirst launches service later this summer. A Dallas launch is scheduled for the fourth quarter of 2001, Moosajee said.

WINfirst also has the regulatory green light to build networks in San Diego, Calif.; Austin, Houston and San Antonio, Texas; and Seattle, Wash. That footprint will cover more than 3.7 million homes.

The overbuilder also has a temporary permit pending in Portland, Ore., and is pursuing approvals in two California regions: Los Angeles and San Francisco's East Bay area.

Although Canal Plus' middleware and conditional-access products have found success in Europe and Asia, the company's technology hasn't gained much traction here. But its experience in Europe's more-mature ITV market played a large part in WINfirst's decision, Moosajee said.

Prior to the WINfirst deal, Canal Plus's lone U.S. venture was a digital trial in Jacksonville, Fla., that AT&T Broadband inherited through its acquisition of MediaOne Group Inc. That open, multivendor pilot employed Canal Plus middleware, Philips Consumer Electronics Co. set-tops and Harmonic Inc. headends.

Earlier this year, AT&T Broadband started to convert that system back to the proprietary platform supported by its dominant equipment supplier, Motorola Broadband Communications Sector. At the time, AT&T Broadband said it remained solidly behind the industry's OpenCable efforts.

Racine said the WINfirst agreement and the previous AT&T Broadband pilot "are good signs that will make [Canal Plus] a global player."