Public media services in France face a number of drastic changes in 2020, including budget cuts and plans to merge multiple organisations.

This, coupled with the threat of more strikes and plans for much greater investment in digital services, could lead to a complicated year for the country’s public media sector.

» Transformation of the French audiovisual sector → Plans to transform the French audiovisual sector are underway, with significant implications for the country’s public media organisations. Central to this will be the merger of France Télévisions, Radio France and French overseas services under one holding company called France Médias. It was initially billed by Minister of Culture, Franck Riester, as a new way for public media to collaborate on content and “create a strong public audiovisual sector, able to assert its missions in terms of education, information, culture, proximity and foreign action.”

Plans to restructure public broadcasting in France have been discussed in previous years, which we reported on in our previous update. But a reform of the audiovisual law will now be debated in Parliament in April. 

However, Director-General of France Télévisions, Delphine Ernotte, shared concerns that while the move to group public media bodies together could help to “address the digital transformation of media consumption,” the new audiovisual law does not go far enough to increase the public broadcaster’s prominence and reach to the French public, with growing competition from streaming organisations such as Netflix and Disney+, which is broadcast on Canal+.

» Budget cuts and shutdowns → The planned merger comes at a time when public media in France faces significant funding pressures. Approximately €190 million in savings has been requested by 2022, the brunt of which will be faced by France Télévisions. It has already been confirmed that children’s channel France 4 and France O will shut down by 9 August. Meanwhile, management plans for Radio France requires €60 million in savings by 2022 and a proposed cut of 299 jobs.  

Read: The executive puts the public audiovisual on a dry diet

» Strikes at Radio France → In a backlash against public media reforms, a strike was launched on 25 November by unions of Radio France, and restarted in the new year. Several shows and concerts were cancelled, including the France Musique New Year concert, while the choir of Radio France has been cut from 93 positions to 60. Voeux 2020, the ceremony for the wishes of Radio France’s president, Sibyle Veil, which took place on 8 January, was cut short when strikers from the radio choir intervened in the name of withdrawing the draft audiovisual reform. Leaving the ceremony early, Veil followed up with an email to address employees, explaining: “In 2020, we must regain the confidence to make our public radio service even stronger in a society that needs it more than ever.”

Listen: Interview with a union organization, representative of Radio France 

» Investments  With planned budget cuts, the public broadcasters have addressed aims to invest in other areas. According to Advanced Television, “France Télévisions has confirmed it will dedicate an additional budget of €24 million to accelerate its digital development, bringing its investment total to €144 million in 2020.” This includes building the new children’s digital platform, Okoo, launched in December, which will effectively replace France 4 as part of plans to provide digitally-oriented platforms in order to reach younger audiences. 

» Salto Elsewhere, France Télévisions, along with private channels TF1 and M6, were given the greenlight by the CSA (Conseil supérieur de l’audiovisuel), the French competition watchdog last year to launch their joint SVOD platform, Salto. Even though many reports refer to Salto as a direct competitor to existing SVOD services such as Netflix, Delphine Ernotte has denied this. Instead, as Digital TV Europe report, she explained that “Salto was not designed to compete with Netflix, which was not a realistic goal,” saying instead that the public broadcaster was ready to partner with Netflix under the right conditions. The streaming service is due to be launched early this year.

In other news:

» France Télévisions plans to extend mandate  Delphine Ernotte announced that she would extend her mandate by an additional two years – which was due to expire in August – to provide continuity for the public broadcaster while the new audiovisual law is implemented

» Radio France and diversity representation On 3 December, Bruno Laforestrie, President of the Diversity and Equality Committee of Radio France, signed a charter to commemorate commitments to better represent disabilities within the media.

» Press freedom ECPMF and partners, in dialogue with police association EUROCOP, prepare to launch their Press Freedom Police Codex at an event in Paris on 22 January in France. They will act to address and prevent police brutality against journalists who report during demonstrations.

Header image: France Télévisions’ building in Paris. Credits: Omarukai/Creative Commons