(Adds BFM TV reaction, detail, context)
PARIS, Dec 17 (Reuters) - France’s media watchdog gave the go ahead on Thursday for the LCI 24-hour TV news channel to be broadcast on the free TNT digital system in France, overturning an earlier decision that LCI owners said threatened the channel’s very existence.
The French 24-hour news channel market, pioneered by LCI in the 1990s on subscription-based networks, was disrupted by the arrival of newcomers such as BFMTV when digital TV was made available free to most French viewers in the mid-2000s.
BFMTV, owned by NextRadioTV, quickly became the most viewed 24-hour news channel in France, dwarfing LCI and eating into its advertising revenue, prompting owners to threaten to shut down its operations.
LCI, owned by TF1, itself controlled by construction-to-media conglomerate Bouygues, had appealed against a July 2014 decision by the CSA watchdog to reject its request for TNT broadcasting permission.
The watchdog’s decision to allow LCI to broadcast free was quickly followed by an angry reaction by BFMTV owner NextRadioTV, which is in the process of being taken over by telecoms tycoon Patrick Drahi.
“The CSA, by giving in to external pressure, has chosen to reinforce a dominant historical player to the detriment of a newcomer and the higher interest of viewers,” NextRadioTV said in a statement.
The watchdog justified its decision by saying that LCI had “no economic future in the pay-TV sector”.
The CSA separately rejected free-broadcasting requests by two other channels, Paris Premiere and Planete+. The former is owned by the M6 media group, while the latter is owned by the Canal+ group of French media giant Vivendi.
Reporting by Michel Rose; Editing by David Goodman