France may give up on pay DTT

The news that TV Numeric, the only distributor of the French basic digital terrestrial (DTT) package, is planning to drop this after disappointing subscriber uptake, follows a year when hopes for the country’s pay DTT sector as a whole appear to have been dashed.

Some of the package’s channels, comprising Eurosport, Paris Première, Planet +, LCI, TF6 and CFoot, are popular enough, but people are watching them via others services, and French pay DTT in general seems to have been a victim of the country’s very strong IPTV sector, which enjoyed renewed growth of around 16 percent during 2011.

TV Numeric’s expected move followed the demise of two of the premium channels available only on terrestrial, TPS Star and Cfoot, and the operator now says it wants to focus on selling push-VOD over DTT, which will launch in April 2012 under the SelecTV brand. The situation was described as “increasingly difficult and problematic,” by Charles Bornot, president of TV Numeric, in a statement. The operator currently has just 100,000 subscribers.

Meanwhil, Canal Plus, the country’s premium pay TV service, and national TV channel TF1 have both tried pay DTT with limited success. Both are now moving towards Free To Air (FTA), terrestrial instead.
The writing appeared to be on the wall for the French pay DTT sector in Dec. 2011 when Michel Boyon, president of audiovisual regulator CSA, said it was failing to attract a critical mass of subscribers. Canal Plus's offer had been most successful, attracting one million subscribers, but needed as twice as many to be viable for an operator of that size, according to Boyon.

It all looked very different just two years ago in March 2010, when the CSA launched three new pay DTT tenders, and research company NPA Conseil bullishly predicted there would be around 1.4 million pay DTT customers by about now.

At least the new French pessimism over pay DTT is not reflected all over Europe. In Hungary, pay-DTT service MinDig continues to grow in popularity with nearly 38,000 subscribers, although this is still only a 1.2-percent share of the digital TV market there.

Pay DTT services are now available in 13 countries of the European Union, including the Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, the Netherlands, UK, Spain and Sweden. There are also limited services in Germany, and also some non-EU European countries like Albania, Iceland, Macedonia, Norway and Switzerland. There is an even balance between the number of national channels available via Pay and FTA platforms, although local programming tends to appear more on FTA.

Overall, it looks like pay DTT will thrive in some regions for a variety of cultural and geographical reasons, such as the Nordics, but elsewhere it remains to be seen whether it will follow this or the French model.