French television viewers -- at least those in major cities -- are about to have
access to double the number of free channels when digital television makes its long-awaited
Digital terrestrial television, or TNT in French, will be introduced in 35 percent of the country's
households, primarily in large cities like Paris, Marseille, Lyon, Lille and Toulouse, as well as
the western Brittany region.
Dominique Baudis, president of France's broadcast watchdog (CSA), has called the
introduction of TNT -- which will offer viewers 14 free channels instead of seven -- a "veritable
revolution for the television viewer".
But France trails its European partners in terms of digital TV technology, with Britain, Italy and
Spain already offering similar services. Denmark was forced to push back its 2003 start date
due to technical difficulties.
Television fans will need a special decoder, which costs less than 100 euros (130 dollars), to
access new channels like music station NRJ 12 and France 4. Viewers will still receive old
favorites like TF1, France 2, France 3 and M6.
Beyond the additional channels, TNT watchers will have better sound and picture quality.
From September, a second wave of 15 additional channels will hit the airwaves, but most of
them will be pay-per-view.
TNT should be available to 65 percent of the country by early 2006, and nearly all of France by
the end of 2007.
Today, three out of four French households make do with the free broadcast channels on offer,
refusing to pay for cable and satellite subscriptions. Viewers watch an average of 3.5 hours of
television programming a day.