Tuesday, 1 November 2011

The future of French terrestrial Pay-TV?

Frédéric Mitterrand, the French minister of culture and communication, said recently that allowing the information channel LCI to become free-to-air would send a “very bad signal” about the future of pay-TV on French terrestrial networks. The channel’s owners, TF1, had mooted moving the channel to a free-to-air model if an updated carriage deal with Canal Plus could not be reached. The news channel BFM also opposed LCI’s move to free-to-air, saying that “there is no place on the free DTT market” for three news channels.

While recent developments mean that LCI will remain a pay channel, it does raise questions about terrestrial pay-TV in France. The free-to-air market is changing in many countries due to reduced advertising spend and due to new opportunities offered by connected services. The recent entry of Canal Plus into the free-to-air market may also affect the relationship between the pay-TV and free-to-air sectors. Through its plans to launch the new Canal 20 channel and its proposed acquisition of Direct 8 and Direct Star, there are concerns that Canal Plus will have an unfair advantage in the French market.

With the CSA pushing for the adoption of DVB-T2 and the European Commission evaluating the plans for the attribution of “bonus channels” following analogue switch-off, the picture for digital terrestrial broadcasting in France gets especially complicated.

While the LCI situation may be resolved, there are still a number of issues that may affect the delicate balance between free-to-air and pay-TV services. All parties need to be aware of the unintended consequences of the changes currently taking place.

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