The Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel also ruled that two other channels, Paris Première (from the M6 group) and Planète+ (from Canal+) must stay encrypted.
The CSA reached its decision after holding public hearings on the matter earlier this month. The broadcasters were seeking to end encryption as the low-pay model does not work for digital terrestrial distribution.
LCI, which is part of the TF1 Group, has been seeking to turn its channel free-to-air since 2011, but BFMTV, a free-to-air news channel, was opposed to such a move and has been able to keep LCI encrypted until now.
The French DTT network is mainly free-to-air and the few premium channels are finding it hard to attract enough subscribers. During the past few years, a number of encrypted channels have stopped broadcasting on the TNT network and it is very likely that Paris Première and Planète+ will also terminate terrestrial distribution.
Canal+ issued a statement, regretting the fact that Planète+ has to remain encrypted. “This decision severely penalises Planète+, the oldest and most recognised of the documentary channels.” The statement goes on to say that documentaries are well loved by the viewing public, yet under-represented on terrestrial television. The decision not ony hurts the channel, but also the viewers.
The broadcaster also regrets the decision that LCI is allowed to go free-to-air (!), “France has become the country with the world’s most free-to-air news channels, while these channels, particularly iTele [which is owned by Canal+], are struggling to find an economic balance for a thematic channel, that is structurally very expensive, in a declining advertising market. The viability of all channels is threatened.”
The M6 group also rejected the CSA decision. “Founded 29 years ago, Paris Première is channel that has, from the outset, offering an ambitious editorial alternative to the public. The approval of Paris Première becoming a free DTT channel would have contributed to the diversity of the French media landscape and strengthen the offer to viewers. The future of the channel is now in jeopardy, as indicated several times in the files submitted to the CSA and at hearings.”