Convergence happily described, last century, the great prospects for technology to disrupt and replace the inefficient with really cool stuff. It has moved at lightening speed. Through the gift of physics mobile technologies are converging with nearly everything. We have Facebook, ads on Facebook, Netflix, Uber and more.
Policy makers at the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and European Commission (EC) saw this coming years ago and, with like minded around the world, studied how to grab hold of that lightening bolt and convert it to happiness. If not that, exactly, at least a gravitational force attracting money. Like everything else on our small planet there are constraints. Mobile technology can only fulfill its ever expanding promise by optimizing the radio frequency spectrum. For a more complete explanation visit your friendly neighborhood physicist.
EC digital everything commissioners Andrus Ansip and Günther Oettinger proposed this week moving digital terrestrial television (DTT) transmissions out of its home in the UHF spectrum so mobile telecoms can use it for 5G services like The Internet Of Things. European TV broadcasters will have four years to get out if their national governments all agree. This was already proposed several years ago by then EC Digital Agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes, who once described getting all Member States to agree on anything as “like herding cats.”
“We cannot have high quality mobile internet for everything and for everyone everywhere unless we have modern infrastructure and modern rules,” said Commissioner Oettinger in a statement. “With this proposal we show that we can have both: a vibrant audiovisual sector as well as the spectrum we will need for 5G. The 700 MHz band will be ideal for new promising fields like connected driving and the Internet of Things. I want Europe to lead in 5G. That is why all Member States must act by 2020.“
Watching carefully all this, as it has for a decade, is the European Broadcasting Union, the association of European public broadcasters. They are “concerned.” DTT is the primary vehicle for TV watching in Europe. Viewers would need to upgrade receivers, again. Broadcasters, public and private, would need to upgrade transmitters and such.
“Broadcasters will need to make costly changes to their infrastructure,” accounted EBU chief EU lobbyist Nicola Frank in a statement. “Member States should clearly be able to provide for compensation for both consumers and broadcasters in order to cater for the investment needed to implement the change.” (See EBU presser here) The cost of it all could run to €4.4 billion, reported Les Echos (February 3).
Public broadcasting leaders in Bosnia - Herzegovina are warning that financial strain and government inaction could soon fade public broadcaster BHRT to black. License fee revenue collected through fixed-line telephone bills has fallen significantly as Bosnians cut the cord for mobile services, escaping the €3.8 monthly license fee. Ad spending in Bosnia - Herzegovina (BiH) fell 75% between 2008 and 2013, reported the South East European Media Observatory (SEEMO), and BHRT radio and TV channels are limited to six minutes per hour.
In the aftermath of the 1990’s Balkan Wars new public broadcasters were created to replace State broadcasting institutions. Ethnic, religious and political rivalries subsumed the region, horrifically, into a battleground. States that rose from the former Yugoslavia were persuaded as bullets and bombs, mostly, stopped flying to adopt the European public broadcasting model as a means of promoting national and European solidarity.
“Our situation is critical,” said Belmin Karamehmedovic, named BHRT general director last June, to Balkan Insights (February 3). “We cannot even pay our gas and electricity expenses, not to mention the €5 million that we should pay the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). It's a problem that has been going on for years.” Last May the EBU appealed to the BiH government for an “adequate funding model.”
After months of one austerity budget after another the BHRT management board indicated program output would be “gradually” reduced until a “complete switch-off”, reported Serbian news portal nezavisne.com (January 29).
“Everything is directed toward maintaining our basic function, which is the program, for which all this exists,” said Mr.Karamehmedovic to RFE/RL (January 29). “We work in one large building that was built over thirty years ago, which was badly damaged during the war. We still have some equipment in the building before the Winter Olympics of 1984. and continue to work with equipment that should be in a museum. The question is how much longer it can endure.
“We feel like an orphan, an unwanted child in this whole thing.”
Observers of Hungarian media politic await each day another round in the slug-fest between billionaire Lajos Simicska and Prime Minister Viktor Orban. There is now a Budapest radio station in the mix, to be called Karc FM with Otto Gajdics as manager. He’d been manager at news-talk station Lanchid Radio, principally owned by Mr. Simicska. Last year he vacated that position along with Gabor Liszkay, editor-in-chief of daily newspaper Magyar Nemzet, also principally owned by Mr. Simicska, and various other executives for “reasons of conscience.”
Mr. Simicska's media holdings had been reliably supportive editorially of PM Orban and the Fidesz political party, to which Mr. Simicska contributed generously. The “bro-mance” ended with the imposition of a tax on advertising revenues, largely directed at television broadcaster RTL Klub, principally owned by RTL Group. Finding lawyers for RTL and Bertelsmann a bit overwhelming the ad tax law was withdrawn and replaced with another directed at all privately-owned media companies and somewhat less draconian. At about the same time PM Orban effectively moved moved the not-insubstantial government ad budgets from privately-owned media outlets to State-owned MTV. This did not please Mr. Simicska, who declared “total media war,” presumably directed at PM Orban. (See more about media in Hungary here)
There was also, not long ago, that tiff about Mr.Simicska’s outdoor advertising company Mahir Cityposter. It had a 25 year deal with the city of Budapest for some 600 installations. Last September the city cancelled the contract with Mahir Cityposter, several years early, and ordered all installations removed. When the city’s wrecking crews arrived in early January Mr. Simicska sent in security guards to provide a little distance. The police were called. All parties moved to court rooms, removal of the installations suspended.
Karc FM will occupy the Budapest frequency of NG 105.9, reported hvg.hu (January 29), once intended to be the radio adjunct of business newspaper Napi Gazdaság, which disappeared in August 2015. The vacated NG 105.9 frequency was transferred to Gabor Liszkay, who, with friends close to Fidesz, acquired the assets of Napi Gazdaság. Regulator NMHH (National Media and Infocommunications Authority) allowed an “expanded profile” for the station. It is expected, with the personnel and name changes, Karc FM will be reliably pro-government.
Always exciting are big numbers. Winners are always defined by big and bigger, best assumed. Being at the top of the list, any list, is better than, well, elsewhere. Whew!! It’s tiring.
So Google, actually holding company Alphabet, is, today, the most valuable publicly-traded company in the world, surpassing Apple, US$553 billion versus US$538 billion, respectively. Fourth quarter 2015 revenue for the Google business reached US$ 17.3 billion, beating the best guess of analysts US$16.9 billion, reported Bloomberg in great detail (February 2). Net income was US$ 4.92 billion, compared with US$ 4.68 billion in like period last year.
“The primary driver was the increased use of mobile search by consumers,” said Alphabet CFO Ruth Porat on the post-release analyst conference call. That means delivering ads through search engine Google and video portal YouTube. Total clicks were up 31% against the same quarter 2014 even though ad rates fell. (See more about Google/Alphabet here)
It seems like only yesterday when Rupert Murdoch (News Corporation and 21st Century Fox principal) vowed to take on “parasite” Google. Actually, he was railing just last week about Google’s “token” tax settlement with the UK government. Tax collectors in France, Italy and Germany are also looking for Google-money. Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin, according to rbc.ru (February 1), instructed his Finance Ministry to explore a value added tax (VAT) on Google and other foreign tech services companies to “level the playing field” for Russian providers.
In other news of billions, Google's email service Gmail now has over a billion users worldwide. And so does the Whatsapp mobile messaging app, owned by Facebook. Several government are looking, too, as facebook to plug tax revenue holes.
Journalist Karolina Lewicka has a new job with news-talk radio station Tok FM, reported press.pl (February 1). Ms Lewicka will host an evening news show. She had worked for Polish public television TVP, off and on since 2008. Tok FM is owned by Agora Group, publisher of major daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza.
Last November she was interviewing deputy prime minister Piotr Glinski as the newly installed far-right nativist government moved forward on certain constitutional “reforms” for a program on TVP Info. She asked Mr. Glinski, also Culture Minister charged with media policy, about constitutional protections for freedom of expression. He went quite ballistic, calling the news channel a propaganda outlet that would soon be “gone.” He also called for her head.
TVP president Janusz Daszczynski suspended Ms Lewicka pending an ethics committee review. She was cleared and returned to work. Mr. Daszczynski was subsequently fired. In mid-January Ms Lewicka resigned from TVP during a week of mass exits, mostly non-concurrent, from TVP and Polskie Radio. (See more about media in Poland here)
Groups supporting the realm and rights of media workers, concluding a two-day fact-finding mission to Poland, hopes the new government “takes a courageous stand” and redeems itself with a change in thinking. "We recognise that Poland's public broadcaster has for many years been seen as a political pawn and a prize for the governing party,” said a joint statement from the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), the European Center for Press and Media Freedom and the International Press Institute (IPI) issued this week (February 1). "This must stop. Nevertheless, past wrongs do not justify the passage of legislation that conflicts with international standards for press and media freedom.”
The groups also call for Polish journalists “to stand together.”
From Last Weeks ftm Tickle File
Noting the climate in Poland, arts and culture channel ARTE “suspended contractual relationships” state broadcaster TVP, reported tagesspiegel.de (January 29). The recently installed far-right nativist government in Poland, often citing cultural dominion, has replaced all TVP and Polskie Radio managers as well as journalists, editors and producers. ARTE is a joint-venture of French public TV France Télévisions and German public TV networks ARD and ZDF formed in 1991 to “foster understanding among Europeans and bring people together.”
“We deeply regret having to make this decision since the relationship with Poland is very important,” said ARTE executives Peter Boudgoust and Anne Durupty in a letter to TVP president Jacek Kurski. “We hope in the next few months to again cooperate more closely with TVP.” Herr Boudgoust, director general of German regional public broadcaster Südwestrundfunks (SWR), became president of ARTE this month. Mme Durupty is general director of ARTE France.
New co-productions with TVP are suspended “as long as freedom of expression, editorial diversity and the independence of public television in Poland are not guaranteed.” ARTE plans to add an online channel in Polish, as well as Italian, later this year. Cooperation with ARTE was suspended once before after TVP president Piotr Farfal, a far-right activist, cancelled a co-production agreement for a film about the Holocaust. "The party that TVP's president is presently connected with does not share European values,” said the ARTE statement. Mr.Farfal was ultimately fired and had to be dragged from the building. (See more about media in Poland here)
Earlier in the week media regulator National Media Council (KRRiT) president Jan Dworak, remarkably still serving, drew attention “to the violation of the principles of independence, pluralism and independence of the public media,” in a statement quoted by Puls Biznesu (January 26). “The appointment of a political activist as TVP president, who for many election campaigns was one of the main authors of election propaganda for the current ruling party, is in conflict with the declared intention of separating the spheres of politics and public media.”
Pleased with the editorial shift at TVP, prime minister Beata Szydlo, quoted in tabloid Super Express (January 29), said news is now presented “in an objective way.”
Anything happening in China rattles the world, particularly financial news. As home to 1.3 billion people with the second largest global economy turbulence has consequences. Some folks aren’t particularly concerned.
China’s media sector, still and always tightly controlled, changes very little. When streaming video service Netflix announced coverage in 130 more countries, China wasn’t included. Getting an operating license “may take several years,” said CEO Reed Hastings. “So we’re going to be patient.” North Korea and Syria, also not included, will require more than patience. (See more about media in China here)
Streaming video is coming to China. UK-based MUBI is the first, after organizing a joint venture with Huanxi Media Group. "Online and subscription is nonexistent, there is no Netflix in China,” said MUBI founder Efe Cakarel to CNBC (January 14). “There is no established platform for video on-demand.”
Alibaba Group is testing a film streaming service called Tmall Box Office (TBO), which will compliment its video-on-demand portal Youku Todou, acquired last year. Unlike Netflix, e-commerce giant Alibaba is sitting on US$10 billion cash. Others at an earlier stage are either ISPs or film producers.
China is “in a state of transition,” said Alibaba founder Jack Ma at the World Economic Forum diddy doo in Davos, quoted by Bloomberg (January 21). “It’s a healthy thing. The two or three next years may be challenging. But generally speaking, if the job market is there, if the consumption of China continues to grow…I think; It’s an opportunity not only for China, but for the world. Don’t worry.”
Publishers have, mostly, cast their fate to the digital realm. Those still groaning from anxieties related to the “ink in their blood” are few and far between. However painful, digital transition continues to transform what once was called the newspaper industry.
The fittest have survived, largely by being on a sound financial footing and immunity to the whims of stock traders. That does not mean anxiety has left the room. Guardian Media Group (GMG), publisher of UK newspapers Guardian and Observer, will be cutting annual costs by GBP 53.6 million to “achieve savings in the most sustainable way,” said the statement, quoted by the Press Gazette (January 25). The plan is to break even in three years.
The last few years have been, well, expanding. Digital capacities have soared, US and Australian editions launched and total web traffic has responded, roughly 7.8 million daily visits. It has been costly and that tidy sum squirrelled away from the sale of its stake in Trader Media Group two years ago and other investments is down to GBP 735 million. Print advertising keeps falling and the digital kind is under downward price pressure from Facebook and about a zillion other takers.
"What we are proposing aims to build communities that readers value and pay for while, crucially, Guardian journalism remains open to all,” said the GMG statement. “That may well mean producing some journalism which only our members can access, additional reporting, further updates, deeper participation with our writers, as well as better functionality and live events.” Ah, yes, “membership has privileges,” said the old American Express ad. Paywalls - hard ones, at least - have failed to turn the digital tide. No self-respecting publisher wants to disappear from public view.
Major Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera is adopting the subscriber/member strategy, offering early morning daily online delivery and access to 140 years of archives. A soft paywall rises after the 20th page. Videos count as one article.
“It is a significant step forward in our relationship with our readers, whereby we offer value at every click and in exchange ask for this to be recognized,” said RCS Media managing director Alessandro Bompieri, in a statement (See RCS MediaGroup presser here).
Last year RCS Media off-loaded its book publishing division to Mondadori, principally owned by the Berlusconi family. The Agnelli family’s investment arm Exor SpA is the biggest stakeholder in RCS Media as well as Fiat Chrysler. This past year’s big media investment was a controlling stake in The Economist Group.