Four French HD channels go live

TF1, M6, France 2, Arte join Canal Plus

PARIS — Four major French terrestrial HD channels went live on Thursday.

Available free to air on the French DTT platform, private nets TF1 HD and M6 HD — as well as pubcasters France 2 HD and Franco-German cultural net Arte HD — join paybox Canal Plus HD, which launched in August.

TF1, M6 and France 2 will broadcast their HD streams over R5, a new MPEG-4 DVB-T multiplex system with 27 transmitters covering about 40% of the French population.

An additional 24 transmitters are planned to extend coverage to 60% by May.

Arte will be broadcasting from the R4 multiplex, which has around 80% national coverage.

Canal Plus already has nearly 87% coverage via its own platform.

In May, TF1 and M6 committed to airing at least 80% of their content in HD by the end of 2012 when granted their 10-year renewable HD DTT licenses.

France 2 HD is a simulcast of the terrestrial channel. Although the pubcaster has made no formal commitment regarding HD volume, most landmark programs, including sports, French-produced drama, and live performances, are already produced and broadcast in HD.

However, existing DTT set-top boxes and integrated TVs will not be able to receive the new HD signal. Viewers wanting full-quality HD reception will need an MPEG-4-capable adapter.

An estimated 750,000 HD-ready TV sets have been sold in France so far this year, for a national total of around 7.2 million.

A recent report by media industry analysts Screen Digest stated that “in the longer term, the bulk of the digital dividend spectrum (in France) is likely to be earmarked for HDTV, so that ultimately all free DTT channels (approximately 15) may be broadcast in HD soon after the analog switch-off, planned for the end of 2011.”

Screen Digest estimates that two million French households will be fully equipped with DTT HDTV by the end of 2009, increasing to four million by late 2012.