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French U turn on advertising not welcomed

By PETER WHITE

Published: 31 August, 2012

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Banning "France Televisions," the BBC of France, from selling adverts in prime time, now sounds like an act of madness from a dying government. So the new French Prime Minister was always likely to revisit the decision, and has now indicated that he will reverse it.

The advertising ban was the controversial policy of the last government, brought in by Nicholas Sarkozy in January 2009. But the problem is that the leading commercial network TF1 is now suffering from a deepening advertising slump and will lobby hard against a government U turn, with jobs at stake.

The pressure on French TV advertising is so bad that some banks have called for government emergency measures, so reviving advertising on the public TV channels is poor timing to say the least. But the current government sees its role as selling off France Televisions, and for that it will need a hike in revenues.

The original ban on advertising between 8pm at night and 6 am in the morning was introduced to improve program quality, and add appeal to minority interests, rather than trying to please the majority all the time. Most critics say that since the move, programming has got worse with the notable exception of the Olympic coverage.

Sarkozy also placed a higher tax on ads on private channels, and added another tax on ISPs and mobile phone operators to fill the hole left in France Televisions budget. Neither has happened really - the advertising slump means there is less advertising to tax, and the European Union ruled the tax on ISPs illegal. A U-turn seemed like the only idea.

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