Gaul firms seek digital TV licenses

Bollore proposes first 24-hour channel

PARIS — Sixty-nine applications were filed Friday for 22 of France’s 33 digital terrestrial television channels, skedded to launch next year.

Only 26 were for new over-the-air and subscription projects, the rest for current free, cable and satellite offerings.

The most innovative was for France’s first 24-hour channel, proposed by industrialist Vincent Bollore for his Bollore Media.

Favoring French flavor

ARP, the powerful writers, directors and producers association, said Monday that it hoped broadcasting watchdogs the Conseil Superieur de l’Audiovisuel would choose channels based on their contribution to “French and European audiovisual and cinematographic development.” It urged the CSA to meet professional organizations before its July verdicts.

Private webs TF1, M6 and feevee Canal Plus are guaranteed two channels each, leaving the other 11 companies, the majority of which filed multiple applications, to vie for the remaining 16. In addition, there will be eight public access DTT frequencies and three regional TV channels.

In France, digital transmission cost estimates range from €3 million-€7.6 million ($2.6 million-$6.7 million) per year per channel, compared with $668,000 for a satellite operation. By 2003, half of French households will be able to receive digital terrestrial TV.

Digital TV in Europe has had a shaky debut. In the U.K., ITV Digital, launched by Carlton and Granada in 1998, has seen its subscriber base decrease 23% to 1.26 million, compared with the 5.7 million of rival satcaster BSkyB.

In Spain, Auna’s digital bouquet, Quiero TV, is on the brink of bankruptcy and looking for a buyer. In Sweden, a country that jumped into the digital game in 1999, only 80,000 subscribers have shelled out $439 for a digital decoder to date, compared with the 830,000 signed up for cable.

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