Canal Plus Taps New American CEO

French media giant Canal Plus Technologies Inc. shuffled its executive deck, and as a result an American is now heading up its North American operations.

David Moss, formerly vice president of sales, has been named CEO of the North American operations for Paris-based Canal Plus. A Texas native, he will replace Jean-Marc Racine, who heads back to France to take over as executive vice president of marketing for the company. Michael Balduzzi, in turn, will take over for Moss as vice president of sales.

With a long cable background including a stint at General Instrument and later Motorola Inc., Moss will oversee Canal Plus's 80-employee American interactive-television software arm, which has been an active player in the set-top box middleware market. The unit is readying for its middleware deployment with overbuilder WINfirst in Sacramento by the end of the year.

"We're extremely excited about it, and we believe the service that they launch there some time this month will raise the bar as far as video services go," Moss said.

In addition to that, Canal Plus is closing in on a deal with Motorola to align its middleware software with Motorola's DTC-series digital set-top boxes. It also is in negotiations with predominant electronic programming guide provider Gemstar-TV Guide International Inc. to align its middleware with Gemstar's system. Moss says that deal would be a valuable win given Gemstar's standing.

"If you are not willing to partner with them and play with them, I don't think you are going to be really successful in that space," Moss said.

Moss takes over at a time when the U.S. interactive-TV climate is changing — and that could be a good thing for Canal Plus. The recent shift from high-end, high-priced boxes toward more modest, low-cost digital units aligns with trends in the company's European home base.

"We feel that is an advantage for us, because of our expertise back in Europe," Moss said. "We've been porting interactive services to thin client boxes since 1996."

But the U.S. market also has its challenges for interactive-TV vendors. While Canal Plus had originally targeted overbuilders, that sector has been particularly hard hit by the recent economic downturn. The result, Moss said, is consolidation among overbuilders and elsewhere among cable operators will continue to be a factor.

"I think it is critical that we see some stabilization as far as consolidation with the industry goes," Moss said. "There is a lot going on, and it has been my experience that when the industry is in this state a lot of decisions are not made on technology. And so the faster that that consolidation moves forward, I think it is advantageous to all of the suppliers and vendors."