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The Tickle File
short takes on daily media news

Big broadcaster shops regulators
Business consideration

Distribution licenses held in the Czech Republic by Viacom International Media Networks (VIMN) have been shifted to the Netherlands in recent weeks. It’s the “next step in restructuring,” said a company spokesperson in Poland, quoted by (July 29). VIMN let the Czech license for Viacom Blink expire at the end of June and licensed it and MTV channels through the Dutch regulator CvdM (Commissariaat voor de Media).

The license for Viacom Blink through Czech regulator RRTV (Council for Radio and Television Broadcasting) required Czech language programming and limits to reality shows. The channel targets women 18 to 49 years in central and eastern European countries and is a joint venture between Viacom and Endemol. Prior to 2010 the license was granted from UK regulator OFCOM as Viacom Spike.

Ever changing digital TV rules in Italy drew criticism at a parliamentary hearing from VIMN CEO for Italy, the Middle East and Turkey Andrea Castellari for “instability…that discourages foreign investment,” quoted by (July 29). Italian lawmakers are revising digital TV rules for the third time in four years. “All this,” he said, “prevents foreign companies from considering our country a market where they can expand their business.”

Unprecedented criticism repeats the obvious
“democratic safeguards”

The Hungarian government has received a sharp blast of criticism over the recently enacted (and quite dodgy) tax on advertising revenues from European Commission vice president for the Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes. “A free and plural media” in Hungary “is still very much under threat,” the Commissioner wrote in a blog post (July 28). Many media watchers have blasted the government of prime minister Viktor Orban for, among other deeds, bringing the Hungarian media sector to heel.

The ad tax by all appearances is directed at the country’s most successful television channel RTL Klub. Indeed, the parliament controlled by the right-wing Fidesz party of prime minister Orban amended the law to mitigate any pain for locally owned TV2. For several years, Hungary’s lawmakers and the politically-observant regulator have effectively forced out media operators unwilling to toe the party line or pay significant gratuity to continue. (See more about media in Hungary here)

“The conclusion is obvious,” wrote Commissioner Kroes. “RTL is one of the few channels in Hungary not simply promoting a pro-Fidesz line; it is hard to see that the goal is anything other than to drive them out of Hungary. The Hungarian Government does not want a neutral, foreign-owned broadcaster in Hungary; it is using an unfair tax to wipe out democratic safeguards, and see off a perceived challenge to its power.”

“The fact is,” Commissioner Kroes continued, “government control, monopoly and censorship belong to a different, darker, period in Hungary's history: and no one should seek a return to it.” RTL Klub is owned and operated by RTL Group, principally owned by the German media house Bertelsmann. RTL executives have vowed to fight Hungary’s ad tax and everything that goes with it.

Commissioner Kroes’ statement is unprecedented; the European Commission has no media freedom mandate. That’s the domain of the Council of Europe, which has complained about PM Orban for several years. Asked about Commissioner Kroes’ statement at a scheduled press conference, Commission spokesperson Ryan Heath offered, quoted by (July 28) that “she wanted to point out a pattern of behavior in Hungary.” The Commission, he said, is not “trying to change or extend it powers.”

Diversity and age in the digital transition
Change and no change

Several national regulators have set deadlines this decade, usually quite fuzzy, for a transition to digital platforms for radio broadcasting. In Denmark the FM platform is scheduled for obsolescence in 2019 if half of all measured listening is attributed to digital platforms by mid-2018. Four years is, indeed, an eternity in the technology realm but listeners in Denmark seem quite resistant to change.

A longitudinal study by the Danish Agency for Culture looking at media usage broadly shows digital radio development “still relatively slow.” To be sure, the percentage of listening to national stations via the FM platform has dropped; 64.1% in 2013 from 71.7% in 2009. And listening via the DAB digital platform has doubled in the same time period; 11.1% in 2013 from 5.5% in 2009. Online radio listening has also increased; to 4.3% in 2013 from 1.6% in 2009. A time-series graph, respectable in theory, would suggest FM platform listening in Denmark remaining above that 50% threshold for another decade. (See more about digital radio here)

But time spent listening to radio in Denmark is collapsing, from average minutes per day in 2008 to 117 minutes in 2013. Young people 12 to 18 years old were listening an average of 54 minutes per day in 2013 while folks over 70 years were listening 154 minutes per day. While portability has long been a competitive advantage for radio broadcasters, the study suggest, this may no longer be the case with all media now available on mobile platforms. “The advantage lies mainly in the increased number of channels available on platforms more diverse than FM.” (See more about media in Denmark here)

Between the national commercial channels and those of public broadcaster DR the listening share is largely unchanged over the last five years, on average 25% (and falling) for commercial broadcasters and 75% for DR channels. Listening to DR channels is strongly correlated with age; 59% of those young people listened to DR channels in 2013 while 96% of the over 70-set tuned in.

Big story – no holiday
Taking it seriously

Norway’s state security office, PST, issued a warning last week of possible terrorist activity in the coming days. The warning’s tone was sufficient for the country’s news media to add coverage. Some needed to call reporters back from their holidays.

The warning was sounded at a press conference (July 24). Public broadcaster NRK carried the first five minutes live then returned to regularly scheduled programming. “Some reporters specializing in law enforcement and jihadism have been brought back," said news director Per Arne Kalbakk, quoted by (July 24). “When the PST and the Ministry of Justice comes out with this and creates unrest among the people, it suggests that there is a threat they are taking seriously. We need to do the same.” Commercial TV channel TV2 also called reporters back from their holidays. (See more about television news here)

Online TV channel VGTV seized the moment, calling in staff and channeling full attention to the single story. “It is the most important story for us right now,” said news director Marius Tetlie. “We’re betting on getting more background and at the same time keeping to the facts and not raising fears among the people.”

From Last Weeks ftm Tickle File

Two guys carrying cameras were not just tourists
“conflicting information”

Border authorities at the Lennart Meri Tallinn (Estonia) airport turned away two employees of Russian television channel Star (Zvezda) on checking documents. “The men came to Estonia on tourist visas,” said border police spokesperson Ilmar Kahro, quoted by (July 25). “When questioned, they could not adequately explain the purpose of their trip and gave conflicting information.”

Press identification cards “in the Ukrainian language” were found in a “review” of their belongings. Within minutes Russian Federation Foreign Affairs Ministry human rights commissioner Konstantin Dolgov issued a statement complaining about the incident. “At this stage there is no reason for their detention. We will continue to strive for their immediate release, not excluding an appeal to the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe).

The men were not detained and, presumably, allowed to return to Russia. TV channel Star is a national network operated by the Russian Ministry of Defense. RAI Novosti indicated the men intended to report on a World War II veteran’s reunion, the tourist visa issue, apparently, incidental.

Ratings: maximize the mood
and be very tasteful

Big change is again the theme for French radio broadcasters. Médiamétrie’s Greater Paris (Il de France – IDF) audience estimates released this week showed some of the same changes seen in the national April-June radio survey (see report here) and a few new ones.

As with the national April-June radio audience estimates legacy general interest national channel plunged in the IDF survey, still ranked number one but falling 11.5% from 13.8% one year on. National news-talk channel Europe 1 moved into second place with 10.9% market share, up from 9.8%. Public general interest channel France Inter fell to 9.8% market share and 3rd place from 9.9%. News-talk channel RMC tumbled to 6.8% market share from 8.6% year on year. All-news public channel France Info dropped to its lowest IDF market share in more than a decade, 3.9% from 5.0%. The statutory national general interest channels on aggregate fell to 40.1% market share from 43.3%.

National music channels were also hurt, dropping to 26.1% aggregated market share in the IDF from 27.1% one year on. NRJ kept 5th place with 5.6% market share, up from 5.1%. Skyrock, which typically scores better in the IDF audience estimates than in the national survey was also up a slice to 4.3% market share and 6th place. (See France IDF audience trend chart here)

Screaming up the chart – figuratively, certainly not literally – was Radio Classique to 7th place and 4.1% market share from 11th. Radio Classique is a national channel owned by luxury goods marketer LVMH broadcasting classical music with quite tasteful brief news. Public classical music and arts channel France Musique was slightly lower at 0.9% market share while mostly speech-based France Culture gained notably, 2.5% market share from 2.1%.

Among the rest of the national music channels RFM and RTL2 were up rather significantly, though still at the back of the list. NRJ Group channels Nostalgie, Cherie FM and Rire & Chansons were all down.

Local stations on aggregate gained very significantly, up to 18.0% market share from 14.8%. Radio Latina, Oui FM, Tropiques FM and TSF Jazz were all up more than a slice.

This holiday season expect fewer selfies
Not going to facebookistan

The holiday season has arrived, for many, or it’s fast approaching. Thoughts turn to family, friends, beaches, mountains… all kinds of fun things. Many Scandinavians are leaving social media at home.

More than two out of five people in Sweden (42%) will not be using social media while on holiday, says a study for online travel portal Momondo, reported (July 23). There is, however, a considerable age and gender gap. About two-thirds of 18 to 35 year olds in Sweden and the same proportion of women will, indeed, be checking in with Facebook, Instagram and all the rest.

Interviewed for the survey were people from 12 countries. Danes, those happy people, are least likely to check social media updates while on holiday, three out of five Danes taking a break from Facebook friends. The Spanish and Italians, it seems, are most likely to be on social media this holiday season.

Money flows, money shifts, money never sleeps

Media watchers of the financial kind roundly predicted, on the 21st Century Fox bid for Time Warner, a veritable rush for big deals. And, so it seems.

Forbes Media, publisher of the euphonious magazine famous for ranking the rich and famous, has sold a controlling stake to Hong Kong investment consortium Integrated Whale. Don’t you just love the name? So 21st Century, yes?

The deal values the company at US$475 million, reported Reuters. Specifics were not exactly forthcoming but VC Elevation Partners, 45% shareholder, exits. Forbes Media top executives, including grandson of founder Steve Forbes, will keep their jobs. Forbes magazine is nearly a century old. Big German media house Axel Springer, which publishes the Russian edition of Forbes, kicked the tires and walked away.

Private equity owners of giant US Spanish-language broadcaster Univision are looking for a cash-out in the vicinity of US$20 billion, reported the Wall Street Journal (July 15). Disney and, of course, Time Warner are expected to bid. Mexican pay-TV operator Grupo Televisa holds a 38% stake in Univision on a waiver of foreign ownership rules capped at 25%.

Morgan Stanley investment bank acquired just under 5% equity in big Spanish media house Prisa, becoming the second biggest shareholder after the founding Polanco family. America Movil principal owner Carlos Slim, the world’s second richest person, holds roughly a 3% stake in Prisa and is a fierce competitor of the aforementioned Grupo Televisa.

UK and Ireland pay-TV operator BSkyB, principally owned by 21st Century Fox, is ready to finalize acquisition of Sky Italia, wholly owned by 21st Century Fox, and Sky Deutschland, mostly owned by 21st Century Fox, reported Reuters (July 21). It will be about US$10 billion shifting from one Fox spreadsheet to another.

Previous weeks complete Tickle File

week of July 28, 2014

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Friday July 25, 2014
radio in France, Médiamétrie, radio audience, Europe 1, RTL, France Inter, NRJ, Radio France, Fun Radio, Paris audience, Radio Classique, Radio Latina, Oui FM

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