From the end of March, fourteen free-to-air television channels will be available in French cities with the launch of digital terrestrial television.

The service is known as TNT, which stands for TV numerique terrestre or digital terrestrial television, but will be branded as Television Numerique pour Tous, or “digital television for all”.

The initial channel line-up, which includes three new services, has now been confirmed after three prospective channels surrendered their licences.

The aim is to reach 35% of the French population at launch from 17 transmission sites. The transmission area will initially include Paris, Lille, Lyon and Toulouse. Eventually there will be 115 sites reaching around 80% of homes.

Pay television services will launch between September 2005 and March 2006.

Free to air services will be broadcast in MPEG-2, although pay television operators will be allowed to broadcast in MPEG-4. The aspect ratio will be predominantly 4:3, although some channel may broadcast in 16:9. The possibility of using MPEG-4 would potentially allow high-definition subscription services in the future.

The French have adopted the MHP standard for interactive television, although it is anticipated that the majority of viewers will initially buy inexpensive set-top boxes without support for interactive services.

Consumer electronics companies such as Nokia, Sagem, Sony, and Thomson are gearing up for production. Following the recent success of Freeview in the UK, some manufacturers are optimistic about sales prospects.

According to a recent Mediametrie telephone poll of 3,500 adults in French television homes, six out of ten are aware of digital terrestrial television. Just under two out of ten indicated an intention to purchase a digital receiver.