French News, Arts Cable Channels Face Closure as Government Blocks Move to Free TV
PARIS — France's TV regulator has declined applications from three cable channels to become free-to-air, saying adding new competition could hurt an already struggling TV advertising market.
But the decision could force two of the networks to shutter.
The three channels are TF1's all-news network LCI, M6's arts channel Paris Premiere and CanalPlus' documentary channel Planete+. They were seeking to move out of their cable berths to become available free-to-air and fully ad-supported. But the government regulators said the French free-TV market at the moment cannot support more channels.
"The arrival of one or more additional free channels now could not be carried by an expansion in the advertising market," the Superior Audiovisual Council (CSA) said in its written decision. The CSA is headed by former education minister Olivier Schrameck.
The council noted what has been a sharp drop in television advertising revenue in France, saying that many of the 25 free-to-air channels currently on air are suffering financially. It noted that no significant market recovery is expected in the short term and the medium term outlook "still remains uncertain."
Free-to-air news channels BFMTV and CanalPlus' iTele would be particularly hard hit by the entry of LCI, the council said. "The arrival of a third free news channel exclusively financed by advertising could destabilize both existing news channels," it said. While LCI, which launched in 1994, pre-dates its free-to-air competitors, the pay TV news network averages just 13,000 viewers per quarter hour, compared to 200,000 for BFMTV and just over 100,000 on iTele.
The CSA expressed worry that increasing competition might also harm other fledgling channels, including already-struggling sports channel L'Equipe 21 and self-billed "diversity" channel Numero23, which airs documentaries, older films and past seasons of American reality shows, such as The Amazing Race and Miami Ink.
As a result, LCI, which was the first French network to pioneer CNN-style 24-hour news, may shut down completely. In the wake of the CSA's decision, TF1 CEO Nonce Paolini said it is "probable" the group will shutter LCI on Dec. 31 if nothing changes.
M6 CEO Nicolas de Tavernost said his company is also looking at Paris Premiere and will shutter the channel "if it is not viable."
Closing LCI would result in around 250 layoffs.
The owners of France's flagship newspaper Le Monde, which said earlier this month it may stop its daily print edition next year, expressed their interest in buying the news channel. "The shareholders of Le Monde are ready to ensure the sustainability of LCI," said group president Louis Dreyfus, adding that they would approach the shareholders to begin discussions. But Paolini has said his news channel is not for sale.