The World: Insider's View - France

In France, television numerique terrestre - that's terrestrial digital TV to you and me - has made its debut. About time too, Fred Degouy says.

Digital terrestrial television (DTT) ("television numerique terrestre", leading to the acronym "TNT" and confusion with the channel of the same name) has been a long time coming to France. It launched last month amid much pomp and ceremony. Its arrival means that, for the first time, French viewers can watch more than the six terrestrial channels without a subscription.

DTT has taken off surprisingly well. Less than a month after the launch, the decoders have sold out. That means DTT already has 200,000 viewers, making the prediction of one million viewers by the end of the year look more achievable than it did at launch.

France is one of the last European markets to launch DTT. Part of the delay was the desire for a solid, long-term business model: it's worth remembering that France was one of the first European countries to launch pay-TV, with Canal Plus in 1984. Cable soon followed, but rapidly ran into difficulties due to a lack of planning. Its poor start left room for the launch of a very competitive satellite offer and DTT now looks likely to fill the gap left by cable in terms of household penetration.

Its arrival has also caused quite a stir with advertisers, who are keenly following its early growth. But while interest is high, investment is slow to materialise.

Let's be clear, DTT is neither a new medium nor does it offer anything revolutionary to viewers: although there are some new channels, others already exist as major cable and satellite channels. DTT channels are not an alternative to the national terrestrial channels, but complementary.

That doesn't mean the future is bleak - far from it. Complementary TV channels have enjoyed healthy year-on-year revenue growth, and DTT shouldn't be an exception.

Key to advertisers' wait-and-see attitude is the lack of audience measurement figures - none will be available until the end of the year. And, for now, the programming is mediocre as best. Better-quality content will see more advertisers attracted to the medium.

The market is there, though. An NPA Conseil study found that 43.5 per cent of respondents were "interested" in the service. The appeal is squarely among men aged under 35, many of whom already subscribe to Canal Plus.

DTT still needs to attract a female and senior viewership, and advertisers and public alike are waiting for youth programming and news coverage.

But these are teething problems, and the continued growth of complementary channels looks secure. TV campaigns on the six terrestrial channels do not reach one-third of French households, so including offerings such as DTT in the campaign mix is essential.

Fred Degouy is the TV media director at Initiative France.