The Serbian parliament extended this week the privatization deadline of state-owned news agency Tanjug and other media outlets, giving one and all additional time before the official procedure closes October 31st. Nearly 40 TV stations, radio stations, newspapers and news bureaus are being offered at bargain basement prices. The State Privatisation Agency published bidding floors on all assets, from €760,000 for Tanjug to €3,000 for small local radio stations.
Tanjug - Telegrafska agencija nove Jugoslavije - was first formed in 1943 as the official news agency of Yugoslavia then absorbed by the Republic of Serbia in 1995. The European Commission has made privatizing state assets a priority in European Union accession negotiations. Not being sold off are public broadcaster RTS and two newspapers. (See more about media in Serbia here)
"For the fifth year in a row Tanjug has been profitable,” said Branko Djukic, quoted by B92 (July 1). “Moreover, we’re putting a portion of the profits back to the Serbian budget and taxpayers. We have significant market revenues and a developed business.”
If no bidders arrive by the end of July individual assets will be offered to employees. Some working for local TV and radio stations are apparently ready to seize the opportunity. If there are no bidders closure is the final option. It is not clear what physical assets are involved. The tiny local radio stations employ as few as two people. Critics noted that big European broadcasters and publishers have fled Serbia in recent years due to “harassment from authorities.”
"We can handle it ourselves,” said the optimistic Mr. Djukic. “I don’t see why we wouldn’t. We are ready, in a much better position and in a much better economic environment. Everything that’s going on in Serbia makes our argument.”
About a thousand jobs will be cut at UK public broadcaster BBC over the next couple of years, said general director Tony Hall in a widely reported video message to staff (July 2). Fewer people than projected a few years ago are watching traditional TV depressing GBP 150 million (about €210 million) in license fee income by 2017. Marketing, PR, IT, HR, finance and legal departments are to be targeted, mostly the nameless, faceless middle managers.
“We've already significantly cut the costs of running the BBC, but in times of very tough choices we need to focus on what really matters - delivering outstanding programmes and content for all our audiences,” said Lord Hall. Earlier in the week youth-oriented TV channel BBC 3 was fated for online distribution only at about half the annual cost. Then, too, there are looming sports rights negotiations. (See more about the BBC here)
The current right-wing UK government, aghast at both the BBC’s enduring public support and lack of fealty from senior executives, has proposed rolling senior citizens out of license fee obligation as well as removing altogether legal recourse for non-payment. The BBC’s Royal Charter is up for parliamentary review in early 2017, scope and funding likely to change.
Legal minds have been clocking overtime in recent months sorting out the digital dividend. In a case winding its way through the European Court of Justice (ECJ) a newspaper publisher is seeking to have a website it operates declared a newspaper, or at least not falling under the jurisdiction of the EU’s Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMS). Newspapers - and radio broadcasters - have been considered “local” media for purposes of AVMS regulation, therefore exempt from the rules and paper-work.
Austrian regulator KommAustria in 2012 decided that newspaper Tiroler Tageszeitung’s website fit the description of an online audio video media service because of its video section and was, therefore, subject to AVMS regulation. Lawyers for Moser Holding, owner of the newspaper, visited the Austrian Supreme Administrative Court for relief and were sent away. The next - likely final - stop is the ECJ and its ruling in the case is expected later this year.
Ahead of that ECJ Advocate General Maciej Szpunar gave an opinion (July 1), not binding on the court but always considered a barometer of legal judgment. First, he offered that the AVMS Directive “did not intend to include internet information portals within its scope… albeit in an anachronistic manner from the point of view of today’s level of development of internet technology.” That’s because web portals with audio and video in addition to text and photos are “not the result of the technological development of television, but an entirely new phenomenon…”.
He goes on: “The fact that in theory it is difficult to come up with an abstract definition of an audiovisual media service does not… mean that in practice it will not be easy to identify such a service. The great majority of services of that kind of service offer feature-length films, television serials, sports events and the like on websites. This is therefore the kind of communication which can easily be classified as typical television communication. Uncertainties must, however, be dispelled in accordance with the purpose of the directive, so that it is not applied to multimedia websites. Therefore, the only websites to be regarded as audiovisual media services must be those which undoubtedly satisfy all the criteria of such a service.
“That does not mean, however, that content placed on the internet, including audiovisual content, cannot or must not be subject at all to regulation by law, including the provisions of EU law, on matters such as the protection of minors and public policy, advertising, or the rules on the broadcasting of important events. Those provisions must, however, be adapted to the specific characteristics of the internet, in particular to its multimedia nature.”
Public broadcast managers find themselves under extraordinary pressures these days to fit the programming foot into the ever shrinking financial shoe. Style is rarely an impediment to the demands of boards of directors, typically demanding more for less. Of course, appearances are everything.
The head of programs at Bulgarian public radio BNR - Ivo Todorov - was given a rather crude ultimatum this week to either agree to a change in job description requiring the holder of his position to have a degree in public administration or leave, reported capital.bg (July 1). Mr. Todorov’s degree is in philosophy and journalism so, obviously, he left. He had been warned not to let staff cuts to affect BNR’s program output. (See more about media in Bulgaria here)
It seems efficiencies demanded by the BNR board include getting rid of that particular position. Program directors of the three main radio services, the multimedia service and the music operation will rotate as head of a “program council,” changing every three months. Staff changes at BNR have been numerous in recent months and some fear other “troublemakers” will be shown the door.
Not entirely coincidental media regulator CEM president Georgi Lozanov threatened to quit. “We still have no legal basis to intervene in the crisis in the Bulgarian National Radio, but then see what happens?” he said.
Radio measurement hasn’t made much news over the last decade or so. The audible drum-beat “the future - ta-boom - is digital” broadcasters in several European markets switched from pen-and-paper diaries to electronic devices. Some - UK broadcasters, for example - held-fast against pervasive marketing from US measurement service Arbitron, patent holder of the Personal People Meter (PPM), which measures listening from inaudible signals encoded in FM transmissions.
Arbitron became the default US radio measurement supplier and switched from diaries in 2008. Something rather interesting happened, reports data journalism portal fivethirtyeight.com (June 30). Since 2008 average minutes listening to radio in the US dropped about 20%. Some radio formats - fivethirtyeight.com focuses on smooth jazz - absolutely crashed. Big measurement company Nielsen bought Arbitron in 2013. (See more about radio measurement here)
Testing the hypothesis that PPM measurement accurately tracks listening to all radio formats is a new black box - silver, actually - called Voltair. It seems to enhance the encoded measurement signal sort of like the old Optimod modulation box. The result, says fivethirtyeight.com, “is testing Nielsen’s credibility.”
US radio broadcasters are lining up for the Voltair box at US$15,000 each. Nielsen’s Canadian subsidiary Numeris asked Canadian radio broadcasters to stop using it.
There has been a certain inevitably to the vast reconfiguration of the television business. As media buyers found their digital dividend in online media’s low ad rates subscription services - once referred to as pay-TV - have found treasure in premium content. This leaves free-to-air broadcasters fewer and, arguably, unpleasant options. The winners - all business is about winners and, well, the rest - read the tea-leaves and, most importantly, placed their bets with cash.
Discovery Communications and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced this week the biggest single rights deal in the history of the Olympic Games. For a mere €1.3 billion Eurosport, owned by Discovery, acquired broadcast, internet and mobile rights to the four Olympic Games between 2018 and 2024 “in all languages across 50 countries and territories on the European continent,” said the official statement. Russia is not included and neither are rights deals previously sold to French public TV and the BBC. Discovery Communications will “assist” the IOC in developing an Olympic TV channel to keep alive “the thrill of victory and agony of defeat” during those long months between Games.
In several European countries the Olympic Games are designated major events to be offered free-to-air by law. “Discovery will sub-license a portion of the rights in many markets across Europe,” said its statement. At a minimum that means 200 hours from Summer Games and 100 hours from Winter Games. In reality Discovery, likely not paying from cash reserves, plans on financing it all by selling off national rights beyond markets where Eurosport does not offer free-to-air channels. (See more about sports and media here)
Cautious has been the response from broadcasters that have produced and carried Olympic Games coverage for decades. Irish public broadcaster RTE, which has rights to the Rio 2016 Summer Games, “remains optimistic that a solution will be found,” said a spokesperson quoted by rte.ie (June 29). “We will be seeking further discussions with Discovery about the UK free-to-air rights to the 2022 and 2024 Olympic Games in due course.” said a BBC statement.
German public TV networks ARD and ZDF “accept the IOC’s decision,” said their terse statement. “The IOC’s press release is not clear which rights are granted for the German television market. This raises questions for the IOC and the DOSB (German Olympic Sports Confederation).” ARD and ZDF had, said the statement, “made a reasonable offer.” Eurosport offers both free-to-air and pay channels in Germany.
In 2012 Discovery Communications acquired a 20% stake in Eurosport from French broadcaster TF1, raising its stake to 51% this year as well as 100% of Eurosport France.
Greek news media went into overdrive this past weekend with major television channels reporting on and talking about the political and economic crisis hours on end. On Saturday and into early Sunday Mega TV broadcast “marathon” coverage. According to the Nielsen dailies, quoted by ToVima (June 29), Mega TV’s coverage reached 19.1%, followed by SKAI at 12.3% and the newly reinstated ERT1 with 11.7%.
Mega TV is offering a nightly live talk show all this week - Zero Hour Greece - “a lively debate with politicians and citizens,” said the press release. ERT1 seems to be getting first shot at live interviews with major actors in the crisis. New public digital channel ERT3 launched with “extraordinary news broadcasts” and cancelled a previously scheduled live concert. (See more about media in Greece here)
Most Greeks follow news via the major TV channels and virtually all are offering news marathons.
Participting as best it can, it seems, financially strapped Antenna 1 (ANT1), which began laying off staff last Friday, reported typologies.gr (June 29). First to go were PR executives. By Monday the station was broadcasting only re-runs. About 100 employees are expected to be set free for the summer, at the very least.
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Very quickly television has become two separate realms; IP and non-IP delivered. For a couple of years TV’s faced the linear/non-linear divide. Before that, traditional and new. More than just the language has changed.
To help celebrate the Cannes advertising festival, media buyer ZenithOptimedia released this week a forecast of ad spending in 12 major countries. The results all point the same direction: advertising is filling up the internet space as quickly as it can. By 2017, they predict, internet advertising globally will lag TV by a mere 4%. After that, TV advertising as we’ve known it will slide to second place.
“The internet is quickly establishing itself as the dominant advertising medium, and on current trends will overtake television by the end of the decade," said ZenithOptimedia CEO Steve King in a statement. “The spread of internet devices and new advertising technology will give advertisers new opportunities to communicate with and learn from consumers, and to do so more effectively than ever before.” Ah, yes; media buyers are addicted to the data only internet and mobile technologies can provide. (See more about ad spending here)
Mobile advertising, of course, is every ad person’s dream. By 2017 ad spending on smartphones and such, predicts ZO, will represent 70% of global ad spending growth, to 12.9% of ad spending from 5.1% in 2014. Both ZO and Magna Global (Interpublic) this week reduced global ad spending forecasts for this year due to a lack of big-draw events.
“2015 is a tipping point in the long-term shift from traditional to digital media,” said Magna Global lead forecaster Vincent Letang, quoted by MediaPost (June 22). “Last year’s global advertising growth was the combination of digital media growing while traditional media revenues were essentially flat. This year, traditional media ad revenues will decrease globally for the first time since the 2008-2009 recession, as the low growth of television and out-of-home ad sales will no longer offset the fast decline of print, challenged by a diversified family of digital media categories Beyond the slowdown caused by the absence of global events in 2015, we believe digital media has reached a stage where it starts to compete more directly with traditional TV budgets.”