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ThE MaStEr

French Pay-TV Service Canal+ to Swap Set-top Box for Xbox

By Peter Sayer,
Oct 7, 2010 9:10 pm


Microsoft has struck a deal with French pay-TV company Canal+ to deliver TV programs to the Xbox 360 game console via the Xbox Live online service.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Canal+ Group Chairman Bertrand Méheut announced the deal at a news conference in Paris on Thursday night.

Their partnership will "bring the full Canal+ content to the Xbox" and make the Xbox more of a TV entertainment center, Ballmer said.

"We will soon be on 1.8 million to 2 million Xboxes in France," said Méheut.

By putting TV programming on the Xbox, the companies hope to turn watching a televised football match from your sofa, say, into the sort of social experience you might get in a sports bar or at the stadium itself. They plan to do this by allowing subscribers to gather in a virtual stadium and interact with one another through their Xbox Live avatars.

Canal+ subscribers usually need a set-top box with a smart card containing a secret code in order to decrypt the company's five digital terrestrial channels or the 60 satellite channels carried by its Canalsat service. However, the Microsoft-Canal+ partnership announced Thursday opens the way for Xbox Live members to subscribe to Canal+ channels on their Xbox 360 or via a Web page, and then watch the programs on a TV with their console acting as the decoder: There will be no need for a set-top box or additional hardware, said Microsoft spokesman Benoit Fouillet.

Xbox 360 owners who already subscribe to Canal+ and Xbox Live will be able to enter their existing Canal+ account number in order to watch encrypted programs using their console.

The service should go live in December. Canal+ is expected to give further details of the launch at an event later this month.

Microsoft already carries content from sports TV network ESPN in the U.S., and it struck a partnership with U.K. satellite TV company Sky last year. Further such deals in other countries will depend on local market conditions, Ballmer said, as the position of Canal+ in the French market was unusual.

The launch of the Xbox Kinect next month will open up further possibilities for Canal+, Ballmer said, such as changing channels by waving an arm, or opening the electronic program guide with a gesture.

Kinect is an add-on for the Xbox that detects movements and voices: Players can direct games with it using their voice or body, without the need for a controller.

Microsoft had a beta version of the Kinect peripheral and a compatible rafting game on hand at the news conference. Ballmer declined to demonstrate it himself, instead inviting two younger Microsoft employees to play. "These guys jump better than I do," he said, adding that he enjoyed playing the game at home with his family.


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