Quenching French Thirst For Info

It’s both accurate and inaccurate to call La Chaine Info (LCI) the French CNN.

The not-quite-24-hour all-news cable channel and subsid of TFI offers instant and prolonged coverage of breaking news, analysis of current events and, as the channel’s name implies, a constant flow of information.

But LCI’s news-gathering organization is complementary to, rather than independent of, TF l’s news division. And, in the spirit of a country that produced Descartes and Sartre, LCI’s programming is often more philosophical discussion than straight reportage.

As well as interviews within the news shows, LCI offers some six hours of discussion, debate and opinion out of a 19-hour broadcast day.

“France has a love of conversation, ” says LCI broadcasting director Jerome Bellay. “We often have many people on one theme. In France you can have the same discussion 15 times.”

Since its June 1994 bow, LCI has consistently drawn to these discussions top government ministers and cultural celebs, as well as the “experts” and philosophers germane to a national public debate that flaunts its intellectualism.

With France’s status as an under-cabled country – only 1.5 million households subscribe – it is difficult to measure exact ratings for cable channels. However, Bellay says viewership has been steadily rising and beats some broad cast channels during times of crisis – like, for example, the recent series of terrorist bomb attacks in Paris.

While the French have traditionally turned to the radio to follow breaking news, audience reflexes now are more often to turn on LCI.

“Now we’re obligated to be there, ” says Bellay.

Ratings appear to be rising in the hours just before the other networks’ evening newscasts and through the late evenings until LCI signs off at 1:20 a.m.

Upmarket advertisers selling cars, cellular phones and luxury items like perfume are taking notice, though LCI is still far from making a profit. Costing some 250 million francs ($61 million) a year, the web will lose roughly $14.3 million in 1995.

“We’ll make a profit one day, maybe in two years, maybe in five years, ” Bellay says. “It all depends on the increase in cable.”

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