French free TV broadcaster TF1 is to create a holding company, TF1 Digital, which will group all of its digital TV operations.

The move is seen as evidence of the broadcaster's intention to step up its involvement in the pay-TV sector and prepare for the future launch of digital terrestrial broadcasting franchises in France.

"TF1 must remain France's leading broadcaster, but an erosion of the free-TV audience in favour of pay television has to be anticipated within seven to ten years," a TF1 spokesperson told Screendaily. "Creating a galaxy of digital channels is the best way to pick up the slack and protect the group's market share."

The group already operates three cable and satellite channels - all-news channel LCI, documentary-themed channel Odyssee and Shopping Avenue - and is a main shareholder in Eurosport along with Canal Plus.

Three further channels are to be launched within a year: TV Breizh, a Britton regional channel which is a partnership between TF1, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp and Silvio Berlusconi's Mediaset and scheduled for a September 1 launch; TFX, a generalist channel with a FFr160m-180m budget, to be up and running as of November 2000; and financial news channel LCFI, a 100% subsidiary of LCI to kickstart in the first quarter of 2001.

TF1's vice president and programming manager Etienne Mougeotte has been appointed president of TF1 Digital and Serge Laroye, a finance and strategic planning specialist at TF1, has been named general manager.