French regulator rejects move by three to free-to-air DTT

200px-La_Chaîne_Info_(logo)French media regulator the CSA has rejected moves to take TF1-owned news channel LCI, M6-owned entertainment channel Paris Première and Canal+-owned documentary channel Planète+ to free-to-air status, crushing TF1’s hopes of taking the news channel in particular off the struggling digital-terrestrial pay TV platform.

In coming to its decision, the CSA said it had studied the impact on the advertising market and the financial situation of existing free players in particular of taking the three channels free-to-air.

The regulator judged that amidst continued falls in TV ad revenues and uncertainty about future growth prospects, “the arrival of one or several additional free channels could not today be supported by growth in the advertising market”.

It also said that the financial situation of existing free channels “is still fragile”, particularly in the case of channels not affiliated to large groups, and noted that the six new HD DTT channels licensed in 2012 were still in their growth phase and had not yet reached financial breakeven. It said there was no evidence that the arrival of new free channels would significantly boost the free-to-air audience, which already has access to 25 channels, but is more likely to result in fragmentation of viewing.

The CSA was told by the competition authority at the beginning of July that the impact of taking LCI free-to-air would have a significant impact on other channels already distributed free-to-air on digital-terrestrial.

Canal+, which had opposed TF1’s move to take LCI free-to-air in competition with its own news channel i>Télé, said the decision of the CSA was “wise and responsible” as the regulator had considered the wider economy of DTT in France.

TF1’s LCI said that would “examine a possible recourse to legal proceedings in the competent courts” to overturn the decision.

The ruling means that the three channels will remain on the DTT pay TV platform alongside Canal+, Eurosport and TF6, the joint venture between TF1 and M6 that the pair have already said will shut down at the end of this year.

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