Government moves to aid France Télévisions’ spending power by scrapping evening ads ban

The French government today moved to help public-service broadcaster France Télévisions better compete for sports rights as its Council of State recommended the reintroduction of advertising during live sports coverage after 8pm.

The public broadcaster’s sports rights and production budget has been downsized in recent years in the face of heightened competition from pay-TV broadcasters and the French government has now recommended the reversal of legislation first introduced a decade ago.

Publishing its 239-page annual sports report, the Council of State has also recommended a review of France’s listed events legislation to ensure greater visibility for women’s sport and the Paralympic Games, and measures to protects sports events against the increasing threat posed by piracy.

The report states that “the Council of State thinks it is advisable to allow, via an exemption, advertising on public-service channels after 8pm during the broadcast of sports events in order to finance the purchase of broadcast rights to sporting competitions”.

It has been recommended by the government body that the exemption includes only live broadcasting of sports events and that the advertisements “would not interrupt a programme” but take place “during breaks in the game”.

France Télévisions has long lobbied for the scrapping of the advertising ban between 8pm and 6am as it looked to recoup some of its sports rights investments by selling pre-match, half-time and post-match spots.

The broadcaster is in now in even more need of the additional advertising revenue, with its sports programming budget reduced to €192m ($209m) in 2019. This represents a fall from the €210m figure budgeted in 2017 – including €140m on sports rights acquisitions – and the €230m figure in 2016.

Flagship sports rights held by the public broadcaster include cycling’s Tour de France, French football’s Coupe de France and Coupe de la Ligue (which will be discontinued next year), the Olympic Games, rugby union’s Six Nations Championship and tennis’ French Open.

The Council of State said that it was taking action because rights fee increases threaten to put rights to major events “out of the public-service broadcaster’s reach.”

Laurent-Éric Le Lay, the director of sports at France Télévisions, last year told France Info, the French public-service radio station, that the French Open, Olympics Games, Six Nations and Tour de France were programming “linchpins” that the broadcaster wanted to keep hold of. A deal to broadcast the 2022 winter Olympics and 2024 summer Olympics (in Paris), along with a renewal of its French Open rights, have since been signed.

However, he raised questions over whether the broadcaster would continue to show French football’s knockout club competitions. The French Football League (LFP) recently decided to suspend the Coupe de la Ligue from 2020 onwards given a lack of interest among broadcasters.

Listed events

Along with the recommendation for the return of evening advertising after 8pm, the report’s ‘Proposition 19’ also calls for France’s listed events – the events of major importance than cannot be exclusively shown on pay-TV – to be supplemented in order to “ensure greater visibility for women’s sports and Paralympic events”.

The Council of State advised that the CSA, the French broadcast watchdog, has a “stronger capacity to guarantee the compliance with regards to the free-to-air broadcast of events of major importance.”

The summer and winter Paralympics and matches of the French women’s national football team have long been expected to be added to the protected list. Free-to-air commercial network TF1 and pay-TV broadcaster Canal Plus recently secured rights to the women’s 2021 European Championships in a joint deal reported to be worth €13m.

Further listed events recommendations made today by the Council of State include the “strengthening” of the free-to-air conditions placed on certain major events, such as the Tour de France and the summer and winter Olympics.

At present, the mandatory free-to-air coverage of the Tour is limited to “significant moments, in accordance with the broadcasting practice of this event”.

The minimum Olympics free-to-air commitment stipulated by France’s listed events rules, which were last updated in 2004, is that the broadcast covers “moments representative of the diversity of the sporting disciplines and the participating countries.” It is also stated that the free-to-air coverage can be offered “on a delayed basis if events take place at the same time.”

Within its broadcast agreements, the International Olympic Committee itself stipulates a minimum of 200 hours of free-to-air coverage from the Summer Olympics and 100 hours from the Winter Olympics.

On the issue of piracy, today’s report flags up the “strong increase” in illegal broadcasts that has been provoked in part by the “new model of pay-TV broadcasts.”

The State of Council’s Proposition 20 recommends the protection of sports events against piracy “by equipping the competition organisers with specific copyright rights and strengthening the prerogatives of the regulatory authority in charge of the broadcast of events and the protection of rights on the internet.”

The piracy issue has become a thorny one across the industry, and particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, where beIN Sports’ business has been hugely affected by pirate network beoutQ. The pay-TV broadcaster this month warned that the sports industry is completely unprepared to fight the threat of piracy and said that it regarded all sports rights as non-exclusive.