Why France leads the IPTV world — but isn’t winning the race

The country that was long addicted to its aging Minitel national computer information network is also the unlikely market leader in the world of internet TV adoption.

We have recognized that fact for some years now — but France’s lead is getting greater and greater. Now over a quarter of French homes’ primary TV sets receives an IPTV service, according to IDATE and other data crunched by U.K. communications regulator Ofcom’s International Communications Market Report 2012.

Ofcom CMR - IPTV penetration

That compares with a measly five percent in the U.S. and below one percent in the U.K.

Why is France forging ahead? The relative slow adoption elsewhere is “due in part to the challenges of gaining a foothold in the face of a range of well-established competing digital platforms,” Ofcom said.

That is, many countries beside France already have strong broadcasting ecosystems with major pay-TV operators offering a multitude of content. In France, pay-TV only began over digital networks, which support wider choice, in 2005. But most French ADSL providers offer digital TV through internet-enabled set-top boxes.

Non-Francophones should not fret, however. The French may have more IPTV-enabled main sets — but that doesn’t mean they use internet video more than the rest of us.

According to Ofcom research, only 13 percent of French consumers use the internet to watch TV on a weekly basis. That’s less than 17 percent in the U.S. and almost half as many as do so in the world-beating U.K.

Ofcom CMR 2012 - internet TV consumption

Says Ofcom: “This is probably driven by the popularity in the U.K. of internet TV catch-up services from the free-to-air broadcasters, such as BBC iPlayer, 4oD and ITV Player.”

The gap between France’s leading IPTV penetration and the U.K.’s leading internet TV viewing habit is explained by the relative higher attractiveness of actual internet broadcast content, and because many British viewers are using the web, not TV, to watch internet TV.

As adoption of internet-connected TVs grows, much of that consumption is likely to move from the desktop to the big screen. But whether actual French¬†consumption of internet video grows in lock-step remains to be seen…