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France’s new DTT platform: same old faces, but this time in HD

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By Barry Flynn, Contributing Editor

Finally, after many twists and turns, the shape of France’s new MPEG-4-based DTT platform – which will emerge in April next year once the so-called 700MHz frequencies are sold off to mobile operators – is emerging.

Its two most notable characteristics are: first, that it will be an almost entirely HD affair; and second, that it will feature no new players.

Across the six DTT multiplexes left, only commercial network TF1’s news-channel La Chaîne Info (LCI), and rival M6’s Parisian channel, Paris Première, will still be broadcasting in standard-definition in April 2016.

In all, 26 channels had applied to the TV regulator, the CSA, to share the HD capacity to be released by the projected switch to MPEG-4 transmissions, of which 8 would have been new to the DTT platform.

But in the end, the TV regulator decided to award 12 HD DTT slots to incumbents, an additional six having already been reserved by law for public broadcaster France Télévisions’ channels.

In effect, with two notable exceptions, all existing standard-definition channels have been switched to HD (see Figure 1), with the result that all bar one multiplex (R3) will be all-HD.

Figure 1: France’s new DTT platform (April 2016)

Multiplex Name

R1

R2

R3

R4

R6

R7

Multiplex channels

France 2

BFM TV

Canal+

6Ter

LCP/Public Sénat

Chérie 25

France 3

D8

Canal+ Cinéma

Arte

NT1

HD1

Local TV/France 3

D17

Canal+ Sport

France 5

NRJ 12

L’Équipe 21

France 4

Gulli

LCI

M6

TMC

Numéro 23*

France Ô

iTÉLÉ

Paris Première

W9

TF1

RMC Découverte

 

 

Planète+

 

 

 

Colour Key: Existing HD channels, New commercial HD channel licensees, New public service HD channels, SD channels
* Licence discontinued after 30/6/2016
Source: CSA, Videonet analysis

It was always going to be difficult for the CSA to offer any of the new HD capacity to new entrants, even though the bidding process specifically provided for it (see previous story). In its summary of submissions to its second public consultation on the MPEG-4 switch-over, the CSA noted that “with respect to the licensing of new free-to-air HDTV channels, an overwhelming majority of contributors considered that the market conditions for DTT do not allow for the creation of new channels.” In line with this, “the vast majority of contributors felt that the migration of existing standard-definition DTT channels to HD should be prioritised,” the CSA said.  

The latter principle was enshrined in the allocation process, strengthened by the simple arithmetic of the situation the CSA faced: for any new entrant it decided to license would use up an entire HD channel’s worth of multiplex capacity, whilst those simply seeking to switch would be using up only a portion, since they were simultaneously vacating an SD slot. This meant, in effect, that were the CSA to licence any new entrants, it would have to disallow one or more SD incumbents from switching to HD – contravening its own bid prioritisation rules.

The new DTT platform is not completely locked down, however. On October 14th, the CSA decided to terminate existing HD DTT channel Numéro 23’s licence because it had contravened the conditions of its original licence, which means that one more HD DTT slot should be made available, which in principle could go to an outsider.

Then there is the vexed issue of LCI and Paris Première. Both of them had wanted not just to switch from SD to HD, but to move from a paid-for business model to a free-to-air one. According to the HD capacity allocation rules, this meant that their bids could only be considered after the CSA had decided the fate of all the other applications. But by the time that happened, there was no more capacity left.

As it happens, the CSA is currently in the middle of re-examining TF1 and M6’s applications for their channels to go free-to-air. This is because of a Council of State ruling that the CSA’s previous dismissal of their applications was null and void because of a procedural error (see previous story). If the CSA upholds its previous decision (and there is little expectation that it will not do so), TF1 and M6 will then have to determine what to do with their two loss-making channels. If both of them were to close, that could free up more capacity.


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