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Reader question: What are the best French TV channels and how can I watch them?

Watching French TV is a great way to learn a little about the country and improve your French - but knowing what to watch and how to access it can be a little daunting.

Hand changing channel on TV remote
Watching TV in France - how hard can it be? Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters

Once upon a time, all you needed to watch TV in France was an aerial, an electrical socket, a TV, and a TV licence. 

These days, it can be slightly more complicated – though the initial TV tuning process is much easier, less sweary, and takes less time than it does to set up your so-called smart TV – and of course you can also watch on a laptop or tablet.

The basics

You still can, in France, buy a new TV, plug it in and watch what’s available. You don’t even need a TV licence, after President Emmanuel Macron axed the €138-a-year payment following his re-election in 2022.

READ ALSO What now for France’s public service broadcasters after TV licence axed?

New TVs will, as standard, allow access to the Télévision Numérique Terrestre, or TNT channels. This is a bundle of 26 free-to-air channels, most of which were at least part-funded by the TV licence fee; plus Canal Plus, which is a pay-TV channel but does broadcast some free-to-air content. 

Older TVs may require you to have a set-top box. These are available in stores.

Channels you will be able to watch are: TF1, France 2, France 3, France 5, M6, arte, C8, W9, TMC, TFX, NRJ12, France 4, CStar, Gulli, TF1 Series Movies, 6ter, RMC Story, RMC Discovery, Cherie 25; sports news channel L’Equipe 21; and news channels BFM News, CNews, political news channel LCI Public Senate, LCI and Franceinfo. Plus, as noted, Canal Plus is on there.

Outside the news and sport channels, most are general broadcasters, so you’ll get the range of news and current affairs shows, reality TV programmes, dramas, comedies and documentaries. 

READ ALSO Five reasons the Bake Off is better in France than in Britain

Watch out for imported TV shows – and there are plenty, notably from the US or UK –  marked VM (Version Multilangue) which means dubbed into French or VOST (Version Originale Sous-Titrée) in English with French subtitles.

All offer Replay services, so if you missed something when it was broadcast, you can catch up later.


The TNT option is a decent start, but most people these days get their TV services as part of a bundle from their telephone and internet provider. Note, they include actual TVs as part of their offers, these days…

The four major telephone-mobile-internet-TV providers in France are: Orange, SFR, Bouygues, and Free

All offer access to the TNT channels, add a few dozen more of their own, and then bundle together additional channels in several packages for you to subscribe to, based on your preferences – sport, for example, or films.

READ ALSO When your favourite films and TV shows will be available in France

All offer Replay services, so if you missed something when it was broadcast, you can catch up later. They also offer video on demand services, allowing you to rent or buy films or series. And gaming, too, if that’s your bag.


On top of the bundles offered by your provider, there are the pay-TV broadcasters, who – basically – offer their own bundles that you can subscribe to, on top of those offered by your TV services provider.

The main one in France is Canal Plus. It offers the usual range of programming – generalist channels, a dedicated movie channel, live sport channels (it has French men’s professional rugby, F1, and golf, for example). 

Rival OCS was originally available only to those who got their services through Orange, but is now also offered across Bouygues Telecom, CanalSat, and SFR for a premium.

Sports fans may also wish to pay for beIN Sports and RMC Sport.

READ ALSO 7 TV shows that will help you understand France

Streaming VOD services

Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney Plus, Apple TV, the gang’s all here in France – and you can set your language preferences to English, if you prefer … and if you’ve never heard Brad Pitt’s French-dubbed voice before, it can come as something of a shock. 

READ ALSO Five Netflix series that will teach you French as the locals speak it

What to watch

Watching French TV is a great way to improve your language skills and pick up a bit of French culture, but knowing where to start can be daunting. 

News – the state-funded channels TF1 and France 2 both run daily news shows and TF1, in particular, is where politicians with announcements to make frequently show up. If you’re looking for a commercial news channel there is BFM TV which has a slightly more tabloidey approach or C News (which is right-wing and sometimes described as the ‘French Fox News’).

Entertainment – if you would rather have a bit of divertissement, France has a lot of téléréalité (reality TV shows). Probably the biggest show is Koh-Lanta, the French version of UK show survivor, on TF1. Other alternatives are Le Meilleur Pâtissier and Top Chef which are baking and cooking contests or L’amour est dans le pré, which is a dating show for farmers (just go with us on this one, it’s strangely addictive). They can be found on the commercial channel M6. 

Arts – if you fancy something a little more cerebral, the French-German channel Arte offers a lot of arts content, plus some really great dramas. 

Drama – talking of drama, pay channel Canal Plus has made several acclaimed dramas from Engrenages to Baron Noir. The terrestrial channels also frequently offer re-runs of American shows as well, usually dubbed into French (it can be quite something to hear the cast of Friends suddenly speaking French with someone else’s voice, but it’s actually a good way to pick up some vocab, since you likely already know the plotlines).

Sports – if you want to watch French domestic or international fixtures you will find a decent selection on the terrestrial channels like TF1. If, however, you want to watch your home country’s team play, you’re likely to need to pay for one of the specialist sports channels like Canal Plus or L’Equipe. Terrestrial TV seems to show a lot of skiing, so maybe it’s time to get involved in a new sport?

Here’s our pick of 7 French TV shows that will help you understand France

Can I watch French TV outside France?

It depends on the channel and the package that you have, but plenty of the commercial channels have websites where you can stream their shows, although usually on a catch-up basis rather than live. M6 (home of all those reality TV shows) has the site which works both in France and abroad, while also allows live or catch-up viewing outside of France. Pay-for channels like Canal Plus work anywhere once you have an account. 

The state-funded broadcasters like TF1 are not, however, available outside France. 

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Palme d’Or winner slams French government in Cannes speech

As she accepted the Palme d'Or in Cannes on Saturday, French director Justine Triet slammed the government of President Emmanuel Macron over its "shocking" suppression of pension protests.

Palme d'Or winner slams French government in Cannes speech

As she accepted the Palme d’Or in Cannes on Saturday, French director Justine Triet slammed the government of President Emmanuel Macron over its “shocking” suppression of pension protests.

“The country suffered from historic protests over the reform of the pension system. These protests were denied… repressed in a shocking way,” she said in her speech, as she won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival for courtroom drama “Anatomy of a Fall”.

Macron has sparked the biggest demonstrations in a generation over reforms to the pension system, which were rammed through parliament without a vote using a special constitutional measure.

The reforms include raising the retirement age to 64 from 62.

Addressing the audience of Hollywood and international film stars, directors, and other industry professionals, Triet also criticised the government’s cultural policies.

“The commercialisation of culture that this neoliberal government supports is in the process of breaking France’s cultural exception, without which I wouldn’t be here today,” she said.

Culture Minister Rima Abdul Malak hit back that she was “gobsmacked” by Triet’s “unfair” comments at one of France’s most prominent events.

“This film would not have seen the light of day without our French model of financing cinema, which allows a diversity that is unique in the world. Let’s not forget it,” she wrote on Twitter.