PARIS, March 20 (Reuters) - French broadcast regulator the CSA said it was delaying its decision on awarding six new television channels, which had been expected as early as Tuesday, because of the school shooting in Toulouse that has shocked the country.
"Given the dramatic events affecting the families of the victims and the country, the CSA shares this pain and is delaying its decision to select the new television channels," a CSA spokeswoman said.
The CSA is weighing up 30 applications for new channels including those submitted by TF1 and M6, the country's two biggest private broadcasters.
Media-to-aerospace conglomerate Lagardere has pitched a channel based on its Elle magazine targeted at women, while the country's biggest sports newspaper, L'Equipe, has proposed a sports-themed channel.
To date, the frontrunners for the six licences are seen by industry executives and analysts as being TF1, M6, L'Equipe, radio group NRJ, and Next Radio TV.
The arrival of six new free-to-air channels starting next autumn will mark a major change for the French TV market, which now has 19 such channels, and is dominated by state-backed France Televisions, as well as TF1 and M6.
It also risks intensifying competition for advertising that is already at a low ebb because of France's weak economy.
Market forecaster Zenith Optimedia forecasts 0.5 percent growth in TV advertising spending in 2012, following 1.2 percent in 2011.
The winners of the licences will have to be able to shoulder high broadcasting costs of between 10 million euros ($13.2 million) and 11 million per year, while they build up a big enough audience to attract advertisers.
That has proven difficult for the first batch of players that tried to break into the market a decade ago, when France's launched its first batch of new free-to-air channels. Several of those channels such as TMC and NT1 have been since been sold to big players like TF1 because they couldn't make it on their own.
For example, Lagardere, which is applying to launch its Elle channel, sold off its music and youth-oriented channel Virgin 17 and returned another licence to the CSA.
Analyst say this track record could work against Lagardere, despite it having proposed a generous 60 million euro budget for its Elle channel, more than double some of the other applicants. ($1 = 0.7552 euros) (Reporting by Gwenaelle Barzic and Leila Abboud; Editing by James Regan and David Holmes)