Jacques Donat-Bouillud (head of distribution) and Bastien Thiébaut-George (project coordinator), France Télévisions
As part of its public service mission, France Télévisions has chosen to offer UHD (Ultra High Definition) to viewers in France, including the country’s overseas territories, on digital terrestrial television (DTT). A pioneer in free-to-air UHD broadcasting in France, the public audiovisual group aims to make France 2 and France 3, its two flagship television channels, available in UHD for 70% of the French population.
With France hosting the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games, a century after it last hosted the summer Games, it was clear to France Télévisions that the time was right for launching UHD channels. But our ambition goes beyond the Games themselves, since France 2 will be broadcast permanently in UHD as of the first quarter of 2024. The assumed objective of France Télévisions is, in the long term, that all private and public broadcasters switch to UHD for the benefit of the French population.
The DTT advantage
Four out of 10 people in France watch linear channels on terrestrial networks. DTT covers 98% of the population, is genuinely free, allows regional opt-outs, and is the most energy- efficient way of distributing media channels (LoCaT, the Low Carbon TV Delivery Project found that the energy consumption of one hour viewing DTT is 10 times less than one hour of viewing for streaming). Nowadays, France Télévisions cannot indeed proceed with a project, however ambitious it may be, without integrating the CSR (corporate social responsibility) dimension.
Taking into account the frequencies available across the territory and constraints related to coordination at borders, France Télévisions aims to broadcast the new DTT multiplex from about 200 towers across mainland France and 15 overseas. Although the towers covering the most people will be the first to be switched on, so as to democratize these new channels as quickly as possible, France Télévisions’ main objective is to make UHD available to all, in both urban and rural areas.
Based on its strong experience with event channels in UHD, and based on the capabilities of the installed base of TV sets in the territory, France Télévisions has chosen the HDR10 2160p50 format, for maximum visual gain. In addition, targeting an improved all-round experience for audiences, France Télévisions will also launch NGA (next generation audio) on its UHD DTT services, with the ambition of improving accessibility for those who are hard of hearing.
Simplifying access to the new UHD channels is a primary goal. This will be achieved in part by reusing the “HD Simulcast Descriptor”, a DTT signalling parameter that was previously used at the time of the switch from standard definition to high definition. This descriptor will enable compatible TV sets that tune to France 2 on its normal channel number (for the HD version) to automatically show the UHD service. This behaviour, tested in close collaboration with television manufacturers, will be transparent to viewers.
Thanks to its DTT ambitions, France Télévisions advocates for free and sustainable broadcasting, accessible to all.
This article first appeared in issue 58 of EBU tech-i magazine.