PARIS – French TV companies launched a new digital satellite TV service Monday night with great fanfare, although the service is not yet ready and nobody has a decoder to receive it.

“The sales campaign starts (Tuesday), and we can take subscriptions during the Christmas holiday. The decoders will be shipped in the second half of January,” Patrick Le Lay, chairman of commercial broadcaster TF1 and TPS, told Le Figaro on Tuesday.

“At the end of 1997, TPS should have between 150,000 and 200,000 subscribers,” he said.

Television par Satellite is the much-hyped joint venture of commercial broadcasters TF1, M6 and Luxembourg’s CLT, with cable operator Lyonnaise des Eaux, state-owned France Television and France Telecom. It originally had planned to start services before Christmas.

TPS aims to compete with Canal Plus’ digital satellite offering, Canalsatellite, and smaller AB Sat, bringing the number of digital satellite broadcasters to three in France. Canal Plus started its service in April and AB, whose parent company AB Prods. started trading on the Nasdaq stock market last week, will start in the next few days.

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