French FTA broadcasters TF1 and M6 have both positioned against the launch in 2011-2012, after the full digital switchover being completed, of additional free DTT channels.

Both private channels are lobbying to convince the French government to wait until 2016, after France Télévision's total ad ban. They argue that extending the number of DTT channels would require a growth of the advertising market.

In the current period of stagnation of ad revenues, which have been stable in the last five years at €3.5bn, new launches would weaken existing channels, in terms of audiences and ad revenues. At the same time it would not be profitable to French creation.

"The business model of the sector is still weak. Multiplying channels again would more disturb the market than heal it," TF1 CEO Nonce Paolini said at NPA-Le Figaro conference on connected TV and OTT services, Thursday in Paris.

"France Television's partial ad ban in prime-time has enabled the finance of DTT channels, added M6 CEO Nicolas de Tavernost.

"The market now has 19 FTA channels and the complementary offer on Free DTT mustn’t be launched before new ad revenues be ensured. Before, broadcasters must strengthen the quality of the existing channels."

However, he also warned that if this argument is not heard by the French government, M6 will launch new channels as previoulsy announced.

A mission of evaluation is currently being led by CSA’s President Michel Boyon to study the opportunity to launch new Free and pay DTT services.

TF1 and M6’s point of view was contradicted by pay-TV Canal+ CEO Bertrand Meheut who doesn’t abandon the idea of launching the bonus channel agreed by the French government to leading FTA broadcasters TF1, M6 and Canal+, so as to compensate the digital switchoff. This plan was criticised by the EU and regarded as unfair competition.

Meheut reacted, saying that stopping development until 2016 would be too late to defend local brands. "Foreign non-linear services available on connected TV will already be entered on the market by then. Hyper choice is killing choice, and we need to build strong brands and offers to local keep viewers loyal. New channels will not cannibalise an ad market, of which TF1 and M6 owned 76 % in 2010 vs 74 % in 2005," he added. Meheut also said his group intends to launch new FTA movies and fiction channel Canal 20 by the end of 2011, early 2012.

The pay-TV CEO was on the same line as news DTT channel boss Alain Weill, from BFM TV. His group NextRadioTV would like to launch DTT sport channel project RMC Sport.

"The terrestrial sector needs to enrich its offer to fairly compete with the new connected TV actors," he argued.

"TF1 and M6 are shooting themselves in the foot if they want to freeze the French TV market instead of giving it a new dynamic."

According to a new poll from TNS-Sofres, 87% of French people are said to be in favour of the launch of new free DTT channels.