France has a unique online landscape — Minitel users still outnumber all other forms of online access. However, a new Technographics® Report by Forrester Research (Nasdaq: FORR) forecasts that the next five years will see this situation change completely, as French consumers go multichannel.

“Minitel has held sway in France for the last two decades — some 15 million French consumers (33%) still use Minitel — but the next five years will see that dominance broken,” said Paul Jackson, Technographics analyst at Forrester’s European Research Center in Amsterdam. “French consumers are now taking to the PC Web in large numbers, and although the Minitel system will not disappear from French homes, its role will be reduced.

“The French have lower-than-average access to the PC Web when compared with other European markets because they still have some unique concerns about the channel. Specifically, the PC Web suffers from not being ‘French’ enough, and consumers¿ concerns over security are maintaining low levels of French home-PC ownership. However, despite the local concerns of French consumers about the PC Web, the percentage of French consumers online via the channel grew from 13% in 1999 to 22% at the end of 2000. In addition to the PC Web, iDTV and WAP are future online contenders. iDTV is the fastest-growing new technology in Europe, with an installed base of French iDTV owners of 7%. WAP services have not yet taken off to any appreciable degree in France — but many consumers will get WAP when they buy a new handset.”

The three new online channels — the PC Web, iDTV, and WAP — make much of their open standards, advanced technology, and wealth of multimedia content. Although iDTV and WAP have yet to gather a critical mass of users in France, each will service a significant audience by 2006. Indeed, over the next five years, Minitel will move from being the leading online channel among French consumers to become the understudy of all other online devices. The number of consumers without any method of going online will fall dramatically by 2006 — with this will come a surge in demand, particularly for eCommerce. More importantly, however, consumers will begin to blend their use of different devices — with clear device competition and cooperation emerging.

“The availability of multiple channels to any individual means that tasks will gravitate to those channels best fit for the purpose,” Jackson added. “The PC Web will remain a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ platform — quite good at most things and excelling at real-time information provision, transactions, and communication — ensuring that most eCommerce and messaging will take place on this channel. However, the other channels will offer best-of-breed solutions for a number of applications: Minitel’s focus will narrow to local and travel information services, iDTV will be the best medium for high-quality audio/visual content, and WAP will benefit from its go-anywhere ability.”

For the Report “France: Clash Of The Online Channels,” Forrester looked into Minitel technology with a survey of more than 2,000 French Minitel users. This was then augmented using our Consumer Technographics Q4 2000 Europe Benchmark Study of almost 4,000 French consumers.