A major reform of the French television service has been approved by the French government.
The reforms presage the end of advertising on the public service channels, which will be funded by new taxes on mobile phone operators and the private television channels.
The main changes are as follows:
End of Advertising
Advertising on the public television channels (France 2, 3, 4 and 5) will be ended in a two stage process. From 5 January 2009 there will be no advertising on these channels between 2000 hours and 0600 hours. All advertising will cease by the end of November 2011.
The Government estimates that this will result in a loss of revenues of €450 million in 2009 rising to €650 million in 2011. To compensate for this loss of revenue, two new taxes will be introduced, one payable by the mobile telephone operators, and the other by the private television channels (mainly TF1, M6 and Canal+). The tax will be equivalent to 3% of the advertising revenues on the private television channels, and 0.9% on the turnover of the mobile phone operators.
Advertising on Private Television Channels
In order to help the private channels pay this new tax, they will be permitted to increase the amount of publicity from 6 to 9 minutes each hour on the main channels (12 minutes in the smaller TNT terrestrial digital channels). In addition, where as at present only one advertising break is permitted during transmission of a film, this will be increased to two breaks per hour.
Governance of the Public Channels
The existing public television channels will be merged into a single legal structure, although each channel will continue to enjoy its separate identity and programming.
More controversially the head of the new structure will be nominated every 5 years by the President of France. Their nomination will need to be approved by the television regulator, the Conseil supérieur de l'audiovisuel (CSA) and a qualified parliamentary majority (3/5th).
French TV Licence
In future, the cost of the TV Licence will rise each year by the level of inflation. The cost of the licence is presently €116 per year, one of the lowest in Europe.
End of Analogue TV
The Government envisages ending all analogue television broadcasting in favour of a digital service by the end of 2011. The reforms have created a lot of controversy in France, as we reported in a previous Newsletter when President Sarkozy first announced his proposals.
Greatest concern is that the head of the television service will be directly appointed by the President of France, with the inevitable risk that any person so nominated is going to lack proper independence.
There is equal concern that the public television service will not be adequately funded. The present head of France Television, Patrick de Carolis (who once called the proposals 'stupides et injustes'), has threatened to resign if he does not consider adequate funding has been put in place. So far, he has remained silent. It also seems he will be permitted to stay in his post until the expiry of his term of office in 2010. The two may not be unconnected!
There are also many worried and angry faces in the French magazine industry, suffering from a decline in the level of advertising in their periodicals. They consider that the increase in advertising time for the private television channels will mean that their own advertising revenues will reduce.
Clearly, the proper solution would have been to increase the level of the TV licence fee, but this was not a political option.
Whilst the government have approved the proposals they now have to be considered and approved by the French Parliament. There is some restlessness amongst even the majority party about these reforms, and it remains to be seen if they are approved in their entirety. We shall know more by the end of the year.