French Court Axes 6 Digital B'cast Licenses

France's highest administrative appeals court on Oct. 17 ordered the cancellation of six digital terrestrial television broadcasting licenses controlled by French television group Canal Plus and media

PARIS (The Hollywood Reporter) -- France's highest administrative appeals court on Oct. 17 ordered the cancellation of six digital terrestrial television broadcasting licenses controlled by French television group Canal Plus and media group Lagardere.

Analysts said the decision by the Conseil d'Etat could further delay France's long-awaited entry into the digital terrestrial TV era, scheduled to begin in March with 15 free-access channels and in September with pay-TV digital broadcasting.

The ruling follows a complaint by rival commercial broadcaster TF1 that Canal Plus violated a legal limit of five digital broadcasting licenses, effectively holding seven licenses because it jointly owned the i-MCM and Canal J channels with the Lagardere group.

The licenses were awarded in June 2003 after a drawn-out and complicated bidding process by the Conseil Superieur de l'Audiovisuel, France's audiovisual watchdog, to choose 23 channels that would launch the country's digital broadcasting program.

The Conseil d'Etat ruled that each group would have to hold a separate broadcasting license for each channel.

As a result of the decision, all of Canal Plus' digital broadcasting licenses have been canceled, except the one for its core Canal Plus SA pay TV channel. The six channels affected are Sport Plus, iTelevision, i-MCM, Canal J, Cine Cinema Cable and Planete Cable.

The CSA declined comment on the ruling. Analysts said the temporary setback could benefit Canal Plus in the long run, allowing the group to create new channels when it makes fresh applications for four channels.

A Canal Plus spokesman confirmed that the group will reapply for licenses when the CSA issues a new call for bids, adding that it is "not inconceivable" that the types of channels applied for would be "different" from the original offers that had been revoked.

A Lagardere spokesman also confirmed that the group would reapply for the i-MCM and Canal J channels individually.

A government official involved with the original bidding process pointed out that the September 1986 statute limiting five licenses to a single company had been revised July 9. "Under the new rules, companies may bid for seven licenses, but that was not the case in June 2003, when the canceled licenses were awarded," he said.

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