Newly installed French public TV broadcaster president Delphine Ernotte wasted little time putting together a new senior team and presenting ideas for the future. France Télévisions has drifted in a climate of increased digital competition and reduced advertising revenues. Mme Ernotte had been CEO of telecom Orange France, succeeding Rémy Pflimlin, whose term expired.
One idea, not necessarily new, is collaborating with France Radio, a separate organization, on an all-news channel in the digital sphere within the next year. France Télévisions already operates all-news TV channel France 24 and France Radio has all-news radio channel France Info, both available online. Germain Dagognet, newly arrived from TF1’s digital all-news channel LCI as deputy news director, and France Info news director Laurent Guimier will lead the project with “calm and harmony displayed,” reported Le Monde (September 2). Mme Ernotte said getting approval for a digital TV license is “secondary” to other considerations. (See more about media in France here)
"I expect to learn more, but of course, I am very supportive of this project,” said Culture Minister Fleur Pellerin, through whom all French public broadcasting projects must pass, on France Info (September 2). Minister Pellerin was more reserved on suggestions from Mme Ernotte that ads on France Télévisions be returned to early evenings and that license fee contributions be extended to digital natives.
Commercial radio broadcast licenses in the Netherlands, set to expire en masse two years from now, are likely to be extended for five years. All commercial broadcast licenses - AM/MW, FM and DAB+ - will be affected. It does not mean the regularly scheduled fee auction will be put off.
As explained by Economic Affairs Minister Henk Kamp in official correspondence, quoted by media magazine.nl (September 1), “the plan will need to demonstrate a convincing acceleration of digitization.” DAB+ broadcasters, virtually all Dutch stations, will need to “improve indoor coverage by January 1st 2016 and increase marketing efforts to convince consumers to switch to digital platforms.” (See more about digital radio here) None of this affects the scheduled auction of new DAB+ licenses early in 2017.
During the remainder of this year Minister Kamp will have a “robust” consultation with broadcasters on a variety of issues, digital and otherwise. One is ownership limits and the potential to lift restrictions. Another is geographic restrictions, less likely to change. Program formats - part of a broadcaster’s license - are not likely to be made more flexible. (See more about media in the Netherlands here)
The marketplace for online news portals - pure players, not simply brand extensions of publications - appears unlimited. Though, perhaps, no longer springing up like mushrooms writers, editors and entrepreneurs continue to be drawn to the web for the promise of financial gain or, more often, a little ego boost. The online news scene - censorship issues notwithstanding - is quite robust.
Over the last decade or so a few of these online news brands have taken to international expansion. The gossipy news aggregator Huffington Post (HuffPo) moved into Canada and the UK in 2011 followed by French-language editions separately for France and the Canadian province of Quebec. After that it was on to Spanish-language editions for the US Spain and Latin America then Italy, Japan, Germany and Brazil. HuffPo, owned by AOL and directed by founder Arianna Huffington, ventured into France in cooperation with legacy newspaper Le Monde, Italy with Gruppo Editoriale L’Espresso (La Repubblica), Japan with Asahi Shimbun, Germany with the weekly news magazine and portal Focus (Hubert Burda Media) and Brazil with Abril Group. Other expansion announced a year ago has yet to materialize.
Following much the same track Business Insider, a news portal focused on business and technology targeting a “younger” audience, will in the next few months have German and French editions. Heretofore it has expanded from the US to the UK and Asia/Pacific in English. So excited by the Business Insider brand, Axel Springer took a stake in the publisher, somewhere between 7% and 10%, intending to produce a German-language edition later this year by coupling with its business news portal finanzen.net. (See more about online news here)
The French edition of Business Insider will be produced by Prisma Media, part of German publisher Gruner+Jahr, a subsidiary of Bertelsmann, under a license agreement. “The Business Insider brand is an opportunity to speak to a younger, more techie target,” said Prisma Media editorial director Martin Trautmann, quoted by Les Echos (August 30). "We have invested a lot in digital and this agreement will allow us to learn more and exchange good practices.”
Slate, Buzzfeed and Mashable have French editions with varying degrees of success. Axel Springer and gossipy political news portal Politico earlier this year launched a European edition - politico.eu - focused on Brussels institutions in English. Site traffic exceeded the million eyeball threshold in July, said an Axel Springer statement quoted by horizont.net (August 4).
The horrific discovery and subsequent worldwide reporting of people who had suffered ghastly demise inside a sealed van near the Austria-Hungary border raised further outrage over the crime and its victims. News media during that final week of summer holidays raced to the scene and were, by most accounts, thoroughly sickened, a view expressed over and over. Explicit descriptions were chilling, as they should have been.
The Austrian Press Council is meeting this week to pass judgment on the “ethics” of tabloid Kronen Zeitung publishing online (August 28) photos of the victims - only faces pixelated - before they had been removed from the van. It is assumed, reasonably substantiated, that the photos were provided by authorities on the scene. Austrian law, similar in many countries, forbids publication of identifying information about victims of a crime before allowed by a court. Public criticism of the publication was “massive,” reported Austrian news portal kurier.at (August 28).
"The faces of the fatalities are not visible, thereby protecting the identity,” explained Krone Multimedia spokesperson Richard Schmidt, quoted by Der Standard (August 29). “In a tragedy of this magnitude corresponding illustrations must be possible.” Kronen Zeitung is Austria’s biggest newspaper by circulation, very anti-immigrant, very eurosceptic. It is jointly owned by the founding Dichland family and German publisher WAZ Mediengruppe.
The German Press Council (Deutschen Presserat) is also looking into “inappropriate sensationalism,” said spokesperson Edda Eick, quoted by tagesspiegel.de (August 31), as the same photos were published by tabloid Bild and Berliner Zeitung (BZ), rights apparently sold-on by Kronen Zeitung. Herr Schmidt of Krone Multimedia said money from sales of the photos would be donated to NGOs supporting refugees. The right-wing populist tabloid Bild is owned by publisher Axel Springer. Center-left Berliner Zeitung is owned by publisher M. DuMont Schauberg.
Spotify’s recent changes in user contract terms prohibiting playlist curators from accepting certain gratuities from music labels raises, again, the naive but widely-held belief that cool stuff online is authentic in contrast with the realities of commerce, digital or otherwise. Some online music playlist curators are getting paid as much as US$10,000 through music companies marketing channels to include certain tunes, reported music industry trade portal billboard.com (August 19). Payola’s dark art is back in the headlines.
“We are absolutely against any kind of pay to playlist or sale of playlists,” said a Spotify statement, quoted by the Independent (August 20). It’s bad for artists and it’s bad for fans. We have a strict policy against allowing any user to accept any kind of compensation for placing a song or an artist on a playlist.” The big four music companies - Sony BMG, Universal Music, Warner Music and EMI - are equity stakeholders in Spotify, which competes in the music streaming business with Apple Music, Deezer and others.
Financial arrangements between music companies and online music streaming services is completely legal. It just smells bad. "It's a logical extension of our marketing services,” said Universal Music France president Pascal Nègre, quoted by Les Echos (August 25). “We now have people dealing with the exposure of our tracks in playlists. Playlists are taking center stage.”
Old fashioned payola - made illegal for radio broadcasters last century in the US but nowhere else - migrated from cash and contraband to DJs, then program directors and up the proverbial ladder. US broadcasters are lobbying for further relaxation of payola rules. Marketing people in other industries scratch their heads, mildly amused: grocery store shelf space has long been sold to the highest bidder.
Unhappy with the presence of a RAI news team in their gated Rome suburb family members of a recently departed loved one became rather indignant. Indeed there was a fair bit of yelling and screaming, jostling and rather blunt demands for a video camera and mobile phone, all reported by public broadcaster RAI News (August 23). Police stepped in to diffuse the situation and, as the camera operator was slapped around, arrested a couple of family members.
This wasn’t a ordinary domestic disturbance involving nosy journalists. Those “family members” are part of the Casamonica and Spinelli clans best known for unsavory occupations including extortion, drug trafficking and racketeering. A few days earlier the lavish funeral of “godfather” Vittorio Casamonica - horse-drawn cortège, rose petals dropped from a helicopter - was the big headline grabber in Italy, August being what it is. (See more about media in Italy here)
“A man threatened to kill me, telling me repeatedly ‘I’ll kill you if you don’t give me the camera’,” said RAI 3 journalist Alfonso Iuliano. “We were surrounded by a dozen people. Only the intervention of the police prevented the worse.” Earlier a reporter for news portal fanpage.it tracking down that helicopter involved in the funeral was threatened with burial in ”an empty swimming pool.”
From Last Weeks ftm Tickle File
Fragmenting markets are frustrating for some broadcasters as much as opportunity for others. Big national general interest channels, generally, fight off regional and niche competitors with brand strength, market power and, not to forget, money. But, where licensing rules cooperate, the “big station” becomes the big target.
Recently released JNLR audience estimates for Ireland were unkind to national private radio channel Today FM. It is a full-service contemporary music channel owned by Communicorp, Ireland’s biggest private sector broadcaster. For the period June 2014 through July 2015 in the rolling quarterly average Today FM dropped to 7.9% market share among persons 15 years and older between 7h00 and 19h00 Monday-Friday from 9.2% one year on. Irish media watchers pointed to late morning show host Ray D’Arcy leaving Today FM earlier this year for public broadcaster RTE. Today FM remains in second place nationally and 5th in Dublin.
RTE is not a cautious competitor, either for ratings or commercial revenue. RTE Radio 1 has been top ranked forever. The largely news and talk channel slipped to 21.9% market share from 22.7% year on year, continuing a slow but steady decline nationally. Its Dublin market share has not, at all, been shaken; 33.8% up from 33.4%. (See Ireland national radio audience trend chart here)
RTE 2FM, which competes directly with Today FM, placed 3rd, again, bumping up to 7.1% market share in the national audience estimates from 6.6%. National private channel Newstalk, the name describes it, also saw an increase, 6.6% from 6.1% one year on. RTE’s arts and culture channel Lyric FM was up a bit to 1.9% market share. National radio channels, on aggregate, dropped to 45.9% from 47.1%.
This meant regional and local stations were up; 54.1% aggregate market share from 52.9% year on year. In the Dublin survey area several local stations took hits. FM104 - number 2 in Dublin - was off, 11.1% market share from 11.6% Newstalk was up slightly to 10.3% for 3rd place. Spin 103.8 was unchanged at 7.1% for 4th spot. The original Communicorp station - 98FM - bounced up to 6th place with 6.4% from 5.9% market share. Still sliding, Q102 dropped to 7th with 5.2% market share from 6.9%. Five years ago Q102 was 3rd in Dublin with a 10.2% market share. Also sliding was RTE 2FM, 4.5% from 4.9%. (See Dublin radio audience trend chart here)
The noticable winner was easy listening Sunshine 106.8, once a pirate, jumping to 4.0% in Dublin from 2.5% year on year. Local rock music station Radio Nova placed 10th, down a bit to 3.5% market share.
Where politicians go money flows
more than a bucket-full
Spain’s public broadcaster RTVE will be getting a substantial financial boost next year as the government raised the budget allocation to €331.5 million, up 17.8% from the 2015 allocation. In addition, the government will contribute €61 million to debt financing costs. Total annual State budget contribution has been frozen at €292.7 million for the last three years.
Costs of broadcasting the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Summer Olympic Games as well as upgrading the RTVE headquarters building and technology centers received specific attention. Olympic Games rights, transmission and production for RTVE are estimated at a bit more than €100 million. Total 2016 operating revenue is forecast at €922.45 million, which includes an expected increase in the special value added tax (VAT) contributed by commercial broadcasters and telecoms. (See more about media in Spain here)
A recent report by the International Press Institute (IPI) concerning public broadcasting in Spain criticized a lack of political independence at RTVE. “The new president of RTVE (José Antonio Sánchez) has boasted of his affiliation with the PP (People’s Party) and has overseen placement of government supporters… in key positions,” said the report, quoted by El Mundo (July 31). “The (political) right denies there is a problem or that freedom of expression is under threat. The (political) left looks at the same facts and makes an opposite conclusion.”