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French report blasts local b’casting laws

Idate calls ownership restrictions 'uneconomic and inefficient'

PARIS — The French-based think tank Institut de l’audiovisuel et des telecommunications en Europe (Idate) has fired a volley at France’s broadcasting law, warning that private free TV stations, such as TF1 and M6, may be prevented from expanding on the international market because of local legal restrictions.

Gilles Fontaine, head of the media economics division of Idate, said the French law, which prohibits any shareholder from owning more than 49% of a pay or free TV station, was “uneconomic and inefficient.”

Quoted in press reports, Fontaine said that the law had not stopped the concentration of capital in the hands of powerful minority owners, either at TF1 or M6, but it had prevented the making of alliances in order to cut costs. Fontaine warned that, in the longer term, French stations could lose control over content and distribution in an increasingly competitive international market.

Citing the examples of Disney Channel and Fox Kids, the Idate report says that U.S. studios “have gone from exporting programs, to exporting TV stations” in a successful move to broadcast their own content exclusively and directly.

The study says the Vivendi/Canal Plus/Seagram merger is in line with this “wave-of-the-future” U.S. strategy, since Vivendi Universal would provide and control its own content.

The study calls for a change in French legislation that would allow one shareholder to own 100% of a television station, but which would limit the number of stations a single operator could control.

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