PARIS: French supermarkets, department stores, hypermarkets and other big retailers were popping the corks alongside their compatriots on New Years' Day. Unlike most of Gaul, the former were not celebrating the advent of 2007 but the freedom to advertise on national network TV.

France, until recently one of Europe's most regulated advertising markets, has long banned large retail chains from using national TV, thereby protecting local newspaper's ad revenues and shielding small retailers from the effects of nationwide ad campaigns by the chains.

French retailers, network TV-owners and ad agencies alike believe they have hit paydirt. Says Philippe Sarrazin, ceo of Initiative France: "For any retailer, it's an immense breath of oxygen, Of course they will use it."

Analog terrestrial channels still represent the bulk of viewing in France and media buyers believe French TV adspend in 2007 is likely to rise by around €200 million ($263.9m; £134.8m).

The liberalization was imposed on the French government by the European Commission, which in 2004 deemed the ban to be an illegal restraint on competition. Since when the constraints have been progressively lifted from cable, satellite and digital terrestrial TV channels.

Data sourced from International Herald Tribune Online; additional content by WARC staff