Tech Allows For Channels Du Jour

Being the biggest broadcaster in Europe obviously isn’t enough.

TF1 may reach the largest terrestrial audience on the continent now but the digital revolution, though late to hit Europe, quickly has convinced TV execs here that the traditional web needs satellite and interactive strands. And TP1 is working on pay-per-view and a selection of program du jour channels to lure future television viewers.

“France really has a terrestrial culture for TV, ” TF1 new technologies director Pierre Marfaing says. “But satellite is the best and soonest way of transporting digital media, so our strategy today is to think satellite.”

TF1 has reserved five transponders on the latest Eutelsat satellite, due to come online one at a time from late 1996 to the end of 1997. These incrementally will launch the network’s most ambitious digital project: a bouquet of channels to be called HyperTV.

HyperTV flies against conventional wisdom that the best way to fill a bouquet of frequencies is a variety of thematic channels. Instead, it will offer a cluster of generalist channels, with varying targets.

HyperTV topper Alain Staron explains, “Having thematic channels and a thousand movies on demand is like going into a Chinese restaurant with a long menu and many dishes. After half an hour of looking at the menu, you choose what you already knew you wanted.

“We want to be like a high-class restaurant with each channel, where the chef chooses a selection of daily dishes.”

TF1 will act as an editor, Staron adds, “preselecting the choices we offer to consumers, so at end of the week you get the same amount of choices as from a group of thematic channels or video on demand.”

“Having multichannel capacity helps any generalist channel cope with attracting audiences,” Staron says.

The first stage of HyperTV, to focus on children’s programming, will debut in mid-or late 1996 using one transponder. It probably will offer different channels programmed toward boys or girls, younger kids or teenagers.

The system eventually will be able to download and store programs and movies on the digital VCRs that are expected to be introduced by JVC next year and Sony the following year. A selection of renewable films automatically would be downloaded each day, ready to be watched on demand. Though TFl has not yet revealed the navigation system HyperTV will use, or even chosen a standard digital set-top box, Staron says extra interactive channels will provide home shopping and games.

A protocol agreement recently was signed between TFl and competitor France Television to set up a joint study group. The group will consider how to develop a bouquet of satellite-delivered digital TV services, including what services to offer and which decoder to use.

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