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Xavier Niel circles France’s DTT platform ahead of frequency renewals

Speculation is bubbling up in France around the possibility that telecom tycoon Xavier Niel, owner of ISP Free, may mount a bid to take over some of the digital-terrestrial TV frequencies currently occupied by TF1 and M6.

Xavier Niel

The licences covering the frequencies are due to expire next March and media regulator ARCOM is currently holding a consultation on their renewal with interested parties.

Two companies have submitted contributions and are due to be interviewed by ARCOM this week: Canal+, which provides pay TV services to a declining base of subscribers that currently totals around 300,000, and Niel’s NJJ Médias.

NJJ Médias, which is due to explain its position to ARCOM tomorrow, has submitted a highly critical assessment of TF1 and M6’s contribution to DTT in France, accusing the pair of being “feeble and slow” in renewing genres of programming available on the platform.

“In reprising formulas that are tested by often old, the leading free DTT channels are progressively losing the young audience. These are young people who are leaving TV and equally, whom TV is leaving,” the company said.

NJJ Médias also accused TF1 and M6 of inadequate engagement with non-linear services, focusing instead on maintaining their primetime audiences and stifling creativity and innovation.

Following the failure of Salto, which had taken too long to put together, according to Niel’s company, “there however exists an important space for a real project missing AVOD and SVOD” leaning on groups with access to the DTT platform and possessing “a capacity for colossal promotion and [access to] the power of distribution of the ISPs”.

“From our point of view, it is important to favour new projects, looking to a younger audience and leaning on a greater degree of interactivity, non-linear consumption and personalisation that enables a linking of the power of DTT with the technical capabilities of the ISP networks,” it said.

While it is unlikely that ARCOM will fail to renew the DTT licences of the two major players, the submission has encouraged speculation about Niel’s ambitions in media going forwards.

The entrepreneur was notably hostile to the planned merger between TF1 and M6, now abandoned, and lobbied energetically against it, notably describing the combination as “a monster” that would dominate the country’s TV ad market when interviewed by the French Senate.

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