Distributors of television services in France have a must-carry obligation with regard to France’s public service broadcasting channels, including the channels broadcast by France Télévisions. This must-carry obligation is coupled with an implicit must-offer obligation on the part of public service broadcasters. In other words, public service broadcasters cannot refuse signal carriage by a distributor that is subject to must-carry obligations. TV distributors include cable operators, providers of satellite bouquets, IPTV providers and certain OTT platforms. An over-the-top (OTT) streaming service called “Play TV” registered itself as a TV distributor with the Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel (“CSA”). Play TV provides a streaming service allowing viewers to watch a number of French over-the-air channels in real time on their computer, tablet or mobile phone. Play TV includes in its streaming bouquet all the channels broadcast by France Télévisions, France’s public broadcasting group. Play TV took the position that its rebroadcast of France Télévisions’ channels fell under Play TV’s must-carry obligations under French law, and that France Télévisions could not refuse the retransmission. France Télévisions disagreed, and asked Play TV to cease carrying France Télévisions’ channels. Play TV asked the French broadcasting authority, the CSA, to arbitrate.
The CSA found in favor of France Télévisions, holding that the must-carry provisions of French law only apply to distributors that have “subscribers” (abonnés). Play TV is indeed a “distributor,” says the CSA. But insofar as Play TV is a free OTT service, it does not have any “subscribers.” Consequently, the CSA found that Play TV cannot use the French must-carry rules in order to force France Télévisions to make its signals available free of charge.
The CSA gave Play TV until the end of 2013 to stop retransmission of France Télévisions’ channels, or in the alternative, to either negotiate a deal with France Télévisions for the rebroadcast of its signals or modify its service such that Play TV has “subscribers” and can therefore fall under the must-carry provisions of French law.
The text of the CSA’s decision has not been published. The CSA issued a press release on July 30, 2013.