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Media Landscapes


Written by Martin Pasquier, Bernard Lamizet


France is a highly developed and technologically advanced country, with a population of 64.3 million as of 2009. These figures include 4.9 million immigrants, a third coming from Europe (Portugal, Poland, Italy), another third from Maghreb, 12 percent from sub-Saharan Africa and 17 percent from the rest of the world, mainly Asia (Turkey included). This immigration explains the high number of satellite TV viewers.

Gross national product was 1.89bn euro in 2007; disposable income per household was 29,696 euro, or 2,475 euro per month after taxes. A French household has an average budget of 2,270 euro a year for media and multimedia spending. From this, 50 percent goes to mobile phone subscription, 32 percent to the equipment (TV, computers) and 18 percent to printed press, the cinema and digital content (2008).

The present media landscape in France has its cultural roots in the postwar period, when the state decided to regulate an industry that lost credit after the collaborationist Vichy regime. The state is hence still very present in the written press (via a recently renewed system of subsidies), the TV (with France Televisions as a major actor and its president almost directly appointed by the state), the radio (Radio France group has two stations in the top five in terms of audience), the cinema (with a complex system of subsidies handled by the National Cinematographic Center, or the CNC), and more recently on the Internet (with regulations on cultural products, downloading and property rights known as Hadopi). State-level decisions regarding French media are thus awaited with impatience and are often very important moments.

As in many developed countries, the written press in France is encountering a crisis. Global profits were down 2.3 percent in 2008 to 10.6bn euro, thanks to a drop in advertising revenues (now accounting for 43.8 percent of industry revenue). Circulation is down as well, with 4.4bn copies sold (down 1.99 percent). In 2007, the written press industry was comprised of 2,066 companies (321 fewer than in 2004) employing 83,354 people (4,000 fewer than 2004), most of them working for magazines and the local press.

Traditionally, the written press in France is divided into four different sectors:

  • The national daily press known as PQN, for Presse quotidienne nationale, with 11 paid-for newspapers totalling a circulation of 1.64m copies and 3 freesheets with  2.7m copies.  The “press crisis” hit the paid-for dailies first, with revenue down 3.5 percent in 2008 (817m euro), a drop in sales ( 2.4 percent) and in advertising revenues (down 4.9 percent).
  • The local daily press, or PQR for Presse quotidienne régionale, is doing slightly better, its 47 newspapers making 5.14m copies, and revenues down only 0.7 percent thanks to a faithful (but ageing) readership (0.1percent) and a limited drop in advertising revenues (down 1.8 percent).
  • The weekly newspapers fall into two sub-categories. The 22 national titles combine for a circulation of 6.3m copies, an increase of 2.13 percent since 2006.. The 246 local weeklies combine for 7.5m readers, with a slight but regular decrease.
  • Niche magazines are a traditional feature of French media life, with 97.2 percent of the population more than 15 years old reading at least one every month.

Recent trends depict the daily press losing its readers (down 0.8 percent in 2008) when weekly papers (notably those focused on women, science and a general audience) gained some ground (about 1.1 percent). The freesheets are also doing remarkably well, with 7 percent of the population reading one every day.

The national daily press is still a very important symbol in France; this despite relatively low circulation numbers compared to other European newspapers of record. For example, leading daily newspaper Le Figaro lost 10m euro in 2007 with a circulation of 344,479 copies at a retail price of €1.30. The industry and the government organised during four months in fall 2008 an extraordinary conference about this issue Etats Généraux de la Presse. As a result, the state decided to invest 600m euro in the written press over the next three years in order to support it. The investment comes notably through a cut in postal and delivery fees and buying advertising spaces in the dailies. This was not without raising questions about the independence of such state-subsidised papers; in the same time the concentration movement continues with friends of President Nicolas Sarkozy owning important parts of Le Monde (Lagardère) and Le Figaro (Dassault).
The Internet, an easy excuse for newspapers on the decline, has not been understood by French journalists. Until recently they merely copied and pasted content from their print edition online without any major editorial innovation. Citizen journalism and blogging are still seen by journalists as purely amateur practices without value to the production of information.

Radio has long been a very popular medium in France, with more than 1,200 stations thanks to the 1982 law ending the state monopoly. A French household has on average 5.9 radio receivers, an increase from 5.6 in 2002, including digital receivers such as computers, mp3 players and, increasingly, mobile phones. Every weekday, 42 million people listen to radio; the generalists’ channels are more popular (RTL, France Inter) than stations with music formats (NRJ, Nostalgie).

State channels still hold a particular place in the radio landscape in France. Radio France owns five major stations, including France Inter, second in terms of audience with 5.35 million listeners as of July, 2009. RFI, the “French voice abroad” is second and Third World channel, whose audience is in African countries, is third.

Private channels are doing well, with the historical “foreign” channels (because the law long forbade private stations, some were created just on the other side of the country’s borders, such as leading radio station RTL, or Radio Tele Luxembourg).  The concentration movement is also a feature of this sector, with press tycoon Alain Weill setting up NextRadioTV, an audiovisual group that includes radio channels RMC (Ninth in terms of audience but the most active in terms of new listeners), BFM  (economic news) and other media.

The “PAF,” or French audiovisual landscape, as it is called in France, was remarkably stable over the last 20 years. But it has been changing a lot since 2005, due to technology improvements and new regulations.

From 1986 to 2000, there were six major actors on this field (two private operators, TF1 and M6; three public stations, France 2, France 3 and Arte/France 5; and one encrypted network, Canal+) and two satellite dish operators. The success of the TNT (for digital terrestrial TV) is a particular challenge for the major channels. For instance, TF1, the leading private channel, has seen its audience slip regularly since 2005. It is now far from its 30 percent market share domination. Twelve new and very dynamic channels are accessible freely since 2005 (and a few other locally), and in 2008, almost 80 percent of TV owners were already TNT viewers as well.  The audience of these channels is up 15.6 percent as of August, 2009, with the two best “little channels” comprising, on average, 2.6 percent of the audience (TMC and W9).

Another big change in the TV landscape is President Sarkozy’s decision to ban progressive advertising on public channels (Five channels are regrouped under the France Televisions holding). Complete application of this decision is expected as early as 2011. Advertising revenues for the group amounted to 830m euro in 2007 (30 percent of its budget). No clear solution was set up to replace these advertising revenues (it may be a rise of the license fee or a tax on Internet providers, mobile phone operators and electronic goods). However, initial audience polls show that viewers appreciate less advertising and night programs beginning (and thus finishing) earlier.  Interestingly, the private channels who were, in some regards, at the origin of this “ad ban” are now asking France Televisions to give them back part of the license fee as they see their own ad revenues drop.

The last change in the French television landscape — which is still not as important as expected — is linked with the Internet. The web allows people to watch a lot of programmes via streaming, and the big channels now all offer a reliable and paid-for system of video on demand (VOD). Mobile phone television, despite the promises of Internet and telephone operators, is still lagging due to an unreliable technology and unconvincing content package.

France has 5,418 cinema screens in 2,076 theatres, as of 2008. More than half (54.9 percent) of the 188 million tickets sold went to the 164 multiplex theatres. Five hundred and seventy-six movies were shown, with 48 achieving more than one million entries (28 American movies, 19 French and 1 British). Forty-eight percent of the market is comprised of American movies and 35 percent by French films. Twenty million people went to the movies in July, 2009.

New records were set in the French cinema landscape during the past three years. Asterix at the Olympic Games was the most expensive film in French film history (78m euro), and Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis , a story about the cultural differences between the north and south of France became in less than six months the most viewed French film (20.4 m views), erasing the previous record set by La grande Vadrouille.

Going to the movies has changed a lot these two last decades. In 1980, 80 percent of moviegoers were under age 35, compared to only 43 percent today. This explains the wars big theatre groups wage on art houses. For example, the movie theater Le Méliès, in Montreuil, near Paris (with three screens) was sued by UGC (with 359 screens) and MK2 (with 58 screens) for “unfair competition” when it announced intentions to set up three new screens. Young people, for whom the costly multiplex (8 screens or more) were built, prefer to watch movies on the Internet (streaming or downloading), explaining the very weak 15 percent average occupancy rate of theatres in France, and, thus, the irritation of big theatres toward specialised art houses.

Three main actors dominate the telecommunications market in France. The historical operators include: Orange (a brand of France Telecom), Bouygues (part of Bouygues group, a property developer) and SFR (part of Vivendi). The trio operates in what can reliably be called a convenient oligopoly. The French Competition Council fined these “big three” 435m euro in 2005, a sentence upheld in 2009. The three groups each offer the same package for landline telephone, Internet and TV (at approximately 30 euro per month), with leader Orange being more and more active in content creation (it recently broke the encrypted channel Canal+ monopoly on soccer TV rights, and is now funding movie creation as well).
A fourth actor, Free, is trying to enter this very protected market. Its efforts have been in vain until lately. Several minor MVNO operators tap into market niches (teenagers, disabled people, low budget households).
The telecommunications market generated 10.8bn euro in the first quarter of 2009. There were 58.2 million mobile phone users in France as of the same date.

As of June, 2009, there were 18.6m broadband connections in France, of which 17.6m connect via DSL. This is equal to 62 percent of households with Internet access. But a third of the French population has never had an access to the web, mainly older people. With 32 million Internet users (people aged more than 11 who connect to the web more than once in the month), France ranks sixth in the world. Twenty-eight percent of French people have read a newspaper online and 27 percent have accessed a TV or radio programmes online.

Almost every newspaper has an online edition. Some of them are heavyweights on the French web, such as (sports daily), with 48.5m visits in December, 2008, and French daily with over 40m visits. The economic model of the online press has still to be defined, with an online reader bringing in France only 1 to 3 euro compared to 20 to 60 euro for the print edition. The present trend among French newspapers is to forgo all-for-free web editions and charge for some content.

Internet on mobile phones is also becoming more and more popular. Eighty-two people out of 100 have a mobile phone subscription in France. Of these users, 31 percent are using mobile Internet (8.3 million people), with fast expansion among people aged 25 to 50 and men. The main newspapers all have versions of their online editions that are compatible with mobile phones. Recently, the radio channels are also able to be received in good quality on mobile phones equipped with 3G connections. Television on mobile phones is still a marketing promise, not a reality; however, TV channels now all have a “replay” service on the Internet (allowing for free viewing of broadcasted material for seven days before putting it on VOD).

A new category of media is also emerging on the Internet: citizen journalism. Sites such as LePost (part of Le Monde), AgoraVox (owned by a monitoring company) or Rue89 (created by journalists) offer Internet users a chance to produce news. LePost, seen as a “test tube” by le Monde, had 1.5 million unique visitors in 2008, which, interestingly, converted into 5.1 unique visitors for

Blogs are also very popular in France. An estimated 10m blogs, of which 2.5m are active, make France the country with the most blogs per inhabitant. These figures do not include a particularity of the French blogosphere, the Skyblogs, hosted by the website of Skyrock radio station. There, more than 27m blogs are registered (as are 17 million users), mainly teenager’s daily pages created to seen by peers, mainly classmates.

Other social networks are also quite popular in France, with an estimated 4 million users on Facebook as of December, 2008. Copains d’Avant has 45 percent of French Internet users registered for an account. There are 125,000 Twitter users in France, mainly media professionals.

Agence France Presse, or AFP, is a national press agency and one of the most respected news agencies in the world (as are Associated Press and Reuters). It was founded in 1944, but its contemporary status was assured by law on 10 January, 1957, when it was defined as an independent worldwide news agency.

Today AFP faces increasing needs of modernisation and strategy renewal. It is ruled by civil law, but is not a private company, since, although it does not have shareholders or capital, it depends only on its business resources. However, the French government began in October, 2008, a series of consultations that pave the way to a privatisation of AFP (as its current status forbids any private interest in its capital), an idea unions have challenged. Revenue at AFP (250 million euro in 2003) breaks down as follows: State (40 percent, down from 70 percent in the 1970s), press and foreign sales (about 35 percent), photo sales (10 percent). There are 2,200 fulltime employees who work in 165 countries, in six languages. Every day, 3m words, 800 photographs and 50 infographics are published. About 2,000 mass media outlets are AFP customers.

The most important journalism trade unions each have their own paper. SNJ (Syndicat National des Journalistes) publishes Le journaliste.

The Union syndicale des journalistes (CFDT) publishes Journalistes CFDT, the Syndicat général des journalistes (independent) publishes La Morasse, and the Syndicat national des journalistes (which belongs to CGT, the other important trade-unions federation) publishes Témoins. There are also a number of other trade unions and associations.

The most important employers' associations are Fédération Nationale de la Presse Française (FNPF), the association of audiovisual public sector employers and the national union of press agencies.

The main advertising association is Information, Presse et Communication, an association of people who work in communication and public relations services, the national trade union of press attachés and the national union of companies papers and journalists. There are national and regional associations for every communication job.

France is home to what is known as “helped” audiovisual production, a system in which a myriad of little companies are subsidised by either the Centre National de la Cinématographie (CNC) or state agencies. Figures from 2008 show that the volume of this production increased since 2007 (an increase of 8 percent with 4,000 hours of programmes produced), with a new short format of series being very popular (up 30 percent), and a good +12.4 percent for documentary movies, which have buyers with new specialised channels.

However, a study of the years between 1999 and 2009 is being conducted by the Direction des Médias, a French government agency in charge of media economy matters. The survey will study this type of production and compare it with other European countries.

An important law about the freedom of the press was passed in 1881. A law dating to 1982 in the audiovisual field made it opened to private operators, and a great number of rules protect freedom of expression for every kind of press in France.

Journalists have had to abide by a code of conduct for quite a long time. SNJ, the national union for journalists, adopted one in 1918. Since 1990, the chairmen of newspapers and audiovisual companies have prepared and imposed new codes on their journalists mostly to avoid legal proceedings, and sometimes for ethical considerations. Most remarkable of these have been enacted by regional Western paper, Ouest-France, which has inspired many other codes of this kind. Otherwise, a law of 1935 protects the independence of journalists (particularly the so-called clause de conscience, which enables a journalist to leave a newspaper whose owner has changed.

Advertisers are ruled by the Autorité de Régulation Professionnelle de la Publicité(ARPP), Authority of Professional Regulation of Advertisement, and all TV advertisements are controlled by the Higher Audiovisual Council.

The Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel or CSA, allocates licences and frequencies. This regulation board was created in 1989. It issues emission authorisations and distributes Hertzian frequencies. However, its independence is question: it is funded by the state and the president of France appoints a third of its nine members. The second third are appointed by the president of the Assembly and the last third by the president of the Senate.

The licence fee for the public broadcasting system is 116 euro. It accounts for two thirds of the budget of public channels. Three quarters of the sum go to TV, the rest to radio. There are regional regulation organisms, called Comités Techniques Radiophoniques or CTR.

As regards the Internet, a new authority has been created in 2007, the Hadopi (for Haute Autorité pour la Diffusion des Œuvres et la Protection des droits sur Internet, also known as ARMT for Autorité de régulation des mesures techniques, following a law of the same name. The law aims to regulate property right on the web. The scope of this authority was being intensely debated in Parliament during 2009. The main controversy is about the possibility for this administrative authority to cut the Internet access of an infringer; this right supposes a permanent watch of the network.

There does not exist any special section of Centre National pour la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) , the French public actor for research, devoted to mass media studies. One is likely to be created, though. There are many research centres in universities, particularly in Paris, Bordeaux, Grenoble and Lyon. There are professors and researchers specialised in information and communication science.

In regards to the training of journalists, a dozen schools of journalism are officially authorised by a committee made of professional journalists (including famous schools such as ESJ Lille or IPJ in Paris. This quorum was set up so as to train just the needed number of professional journalists to replace the retiring ones (about 300 every year). Journalists are also trained by a very lucrative market of partially recognised schools, and public university master’s degrees are usually more specialised.

Several agencies or publications have collections of detailed information. One is the INSEE (Institut National de la Statististique et des Etudes Economiques), the national producer of statistics. Much of its data is not accessible without a subscription, however, its data are interpreted and talked about in the media.

More specialised is Mediametrie, a private polling agency which delivers the main audiences of the different media. Their rankings are long-awaited and determine the advertising value of a channel or radio station.

In regard to the written press (and, more recently, some traditional media websites), the OJD (Association pour le Contrôle et la Diffusion des Médias) is the certificate-granting organism for the circulation of all written publication, be it the national dailies or the professional papers.

Other statistics can be found in the specialised press such as Stratégies (advertising and marketing, their archive is free of charges), CBNews (advertising and marketing), Médias or the “media” pages of the daily press (Libération, Le Monde, Le Figaro).

The media landscape has changed a lot in recent years, with the press trying to conquer the web (see the experiment of Mediapart, a pure participatory web player created by former Le Monde editor-in-chief Edwy Plenel. Mediapart is now considering a print edition).

The ageing TV landscape has been shaken by the arrival of 14 new, young and very active channels.

New technologies are “changing the world” as French journalist and top blogger François Pisani says, redefining at least the almost holy status of the journalist. Paradoxically, the press is not doing well but more and more people are trained in journalism school. Blogs are an increasingly legitimate source (and more reactive) than newspapers on certain specialities.

It is, in fact, a difficult time for journalists who have encountered a true identity crisis.

The return of the state in the media sphere (if it ever left) is also impressive. In the last two years the printed press (with the 600m euro subsidy package), the TV (with the end of advertising on public channels), the radio (with controversial nominations) and the Internet (with the “liberticide” law Hadopi) are all under tight supervision of the executive.

The near future awaits the expansion of mobile phone devices and media applications still reserved for a geeky elite of early adapters. But the networks do not seem to be ready, nor the users, already exhausted after many failures (the WAP, TV on mobile phone… and the high price of the data packages).

Martin Pasquier
Head of strategic monitoring
La Netscouade Web Agency
8, passage Brulon
75012 Paris, France
Tel: +33 01 44 74 36 66‎

Bernard Lamizet
Institut d'Etudes Politiques
14, avenue Berthelot
69365 Lyon,
Tel: +33 04 37 28 38 37