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Outlook: Sky/Canal Plus

RUPERT MURDOCH has been trying to get into bed with the European television industry for so long he is running out of potential dates. Brief flings with the likes of Bertelsmann, Leo Kirch, Silvio Berlusconi and Telecom Italia have all ended in tears. Now he is flirting with Canal Plus, the French satellite broadcaster that dominates the European pay-TV market.

From a commercial perspective, Canal Plus and British Sky Broadcasting have always been ideally matched. Combined, the two would create a pay- TV giant with the potential to reach 18 million viewers across the Continent. They could also share the financial burden of launching digital television services in their respective markets.

Unfortunately, this is one of those dalliances that is doomed never to make it anywhere near the altar. In the past, the European Commission has cracked down hard on any deal that even hinted at eliminating competition in the European television industry. Something as blatant as a Canal Plus- Sky merger would be dismissed almost out of hand.

Rupert Murdoch's real problem is that multi-channel television is now too well developed and entrenched in Europe to allow him a foot in the door. Sky's dominance of British pay-TV was built on taking a huge punt on a business whose potential had not been spotted by others. Who knows, Mr Murdoch may find some other fledgling industry from which he can build a power base on the Continent. But the doors seem closed against him in pay-TV.