Television in France was introduced in 1931, when the first experimental broadcasts began. Colour television was introduced in October 1967 on La Deuxième Chaîne.
Télévision Numérique Terrestre is the national digital terrestrial television service for France. It formally arrived on 31 March 2005 after a short testing period. Like Freeview in the UK, it provides many new channels, as well as the current terrestrial television stations. Like the rest of the Europe, France uses the DVB-T transmission technology.
By 2012, the digital terrestrial television services were expected to cover at least 95% of the French metropolitan population. Five high-definition (HD) channels (four free-to-air and one subscription) were launched in October 2008 using also the H.264 format. In September 2005, pay television channels were launched that use the MPEG-4 format, unlike most of Europe, which uses MPEG-2.
Pay-per-view terrestrial channels use H.264. TNT is the first service to implement Dolby Digital Plus as an audio codec on its high-definition channels. Viewers must buy a TV set (or set-top box) that supports both MPEG-4 H.264 and DD+ to enjoy HD channels.
Analog broadcasts were switched off on 30 November 2011 on all platforms, whether it is terrestrial, satellite or cable. Overseas departments and territories (such as French Guiana and Martinique) also terminated all analog broadcasts on the same day.
By 2008, 34% of the French population was using analog TV as an only reception mode. The next year, the city of Coulommiers switched to digital-only TV, serving as a test city for TDF. By the end of 2009, analog TV was shut off in the Nord Cotentin, and TDF reported no major reception problems. Citizens in TNT test zones were informed that analog TV would shut down by early 2009, and consequently they adapted their installation.
For the rest of the country, the shut-off progressed by regions, more precisely France 3 regions. It means that every transmitters broadcasting France 3 Méditerranée Provence-Alpes went digital on the same date, another date for those that broadcast France 3 Bourgogne Franche-Comté. The analog shut-off occurred in 2010 in the north; the south was the last to phase out analog television broadcasts.
For three months before shutting down an analog transmitter, it transmitted the TNT multiplexes so that viewers could adapt their installation on time. Also, a message was displayed as marquee on analog channels warning the viewer that he would no longer receive TV if he or she did not switch to digital. To help people installing their TNT reception equipment, the French government created "France Télé Numérique". It made didactic videos, television advertisements, and went through the local markets, to meet people and solve their problems regarding DTT reception.
Old people, or with restricted financial conditions, received help from the French state, so that they could switch to DTT easily.
The most common adapters sold in the market only decode MPEG-2 and have only one SCART output socket. Old TV sets (before 1980) need a UHF modulator between the TV and the set-top box, as they have no SCART socket. Unlike VCRs, DVB-T set-top boxes rarely include such a modulator, and a SCART to RCA adaptor is often needed to feed the modulator with the signal. The solution recommended by France Télé Numérique is just to buy a new TV set instead of using a modulator.
TNT channels are also available for reception by satellite, broadcast from the Astra satellites at 19.2° east as TNT SAT and from Atlantic Bird 3 as FRANSAT. Some of the channels are encrypted but there is no subscription charge, and both the set-top box and viewing card (valid for four years) that are required are available from hypermarkets. The public channels France 2, France 3, France 5, France Ô, LCP and the Franco-German channel arte are free-to-air on Atlantic Bird 3.
During the 2010 FIFA World Cup games, the channels France 2 and France 3 were encrypted to prevent watching the matches elsewhere than in France.
Most internet service providers in France now offer digital television (IPTV) packages through triple-play set-top box. However, some subscribers have too much attenuation distortion on their lines to benefit from the service, and France does not yet have 100% DSL coverage.
French cable providers Noos SA and UPC France SA and Numericable merged to become the largest cable operator in France. They provide Cable Television (using multiple brands) through their set top boxes.
Digital satellite television has existed in France since 1997. HDTV transmissions began in April 2006, when CanalSat launched its first HD channel (Canal+ HD). Télévision Par Satellite and CanalSat have merged in 2007, leaving Nouveau Canalsat and Bis Télévisions as the two main competitors for the satellite television market in the country.
Yearly viewing shares 2016 (not including subscription channels):