Athens dance radio station Best Radio 92.6 will be returning to the airwaves. The station went bankrupt two years ago and hung on for another six months before vacating operations. The last several years have been tough on smaller private sector broadcasters and even the big ones.
A Greek law treats vacant FM licenses like vacant houses and former employees can re-open a radio station by simple registration. “A publisher,” reported radiofono.gr (October 28), is providing financial backing. Former general manager Lina Vassilopoulou is also returning. Best Radio, originally launched more than 30 years ago, could be back on the air by the end of November. (See more about media in Greece here)
Assets of Best Radio and Athens station VFM were seized in March 2013 by liquidators for Eurobank when owner Lymperis Group took advantage of bankruptcy protection. Employees hadn’t been paid for several months and began the process of seizing the remaining asset – that FM license. Ex-employees of bankrupt Athens station Nitro FM acquired its FM license asset last year. It is expected that ex-employees of VFM will follow in the same footsteps.
Greek media watchers estimate between 30 and 90 FM licenses remain vacant, many from the closure of regional stations of shuttered public broadcaster ERT.
“Cynical” news coverage of the Ebola tragedy perpetuates a view that “Africa is helpless,” said Austrian writer on African issues Martin Sturmer, quoted by tagesspiegel.de (October 30). Western news media didn’t pick up on the story to a significant extent until Spanish priest Miguel Pajares died in August, he noted, and successes in controlling the virus in Nigeria and Senegal have received little media attention. (See recent related article about media development in Africa)
Attraction to bad news is deep in the genetics of journalism. Cynical reporting isn’t far from that core. Most Western coverage of the Ebola outbreak has been fixed on Western aid workers rather than African victims. The most reprehensible Western reporting has stepped indelicately into jingoism and fear-mongering.
“We forget African helpers and heros,” said Sturmer.
A web-based e-commerce portal still wet behind the ears gets a wink and a nod and a bit of cash from great big publishing houses. A new idea has been blessed. The New York Times Company and Axel Springer Digital Ventures placed €3 million for just under 25% of Dutch news aggregator Blendle. These are the stories that stir the entrepreneurial spirit.
Blendle’s hot idea is a blend of news aggregator and paywall. Publishers sell individual articles through the portal. The idea came from Spotify and seems to attract the same audience: young people. “If you make the service good enough, then people will pay,” said co-founder Alexander Klöpping, quoted by Bloomberg Businessweek (October 27). The last big paywall idea to attract VC attention, Piano Media, seems to have lost a bit of traction.
Big Scandinavian publisher Schibsted acquired Svenska Klipp, a portal for sharing clips from Swedish movies and TV shows, reported Dagens Media (October 27). Svenska Klipp is available on Instagram, YouTube and a Facebook group with 130,000 fans. Remuneration was not disclosed. Schibsted acquired rights to the domain name and will fold Svenska Klipp into its lajkat.se group of portals.
By the scale of recent media deals, these barely make a blip against the multi-millions invested in acquisitions by some, arguable more ego-driven, media houses. “This might not be great money, but it’s incremental money,” said De Persgroep CEO Christian Van Thillo on marketing content through Blendle. “So the margins are great.” The same can easily be said for new ways of investing in media ideas.
The battle in Germany between publishers and search engine giant Google over money is playing out altogether predictably. Publishers won a legislative victory last year enshrining a new intellectual property right, controversial among IRP lawyers, after which some, not all, formed a collecting society, VG Media, to chase after search engines that index web content using headlines, snippets, photos and such. The new German intellectual property right did, however, allow search engines to index material with a headline and link. The object would be, it seems, to force Google to negotiate with the publishers for a payment schedule. The response from Google lawyers has always been the same: no money.
Google lawyers yielded almost everything the publishers demanded: no snippets and no photos. Copyright material from publishers negotiating through VG Media was from last week indexed only with a headline and link. Google lawyers asked the Federal Cartel Office (Bundeskartellamt) to recognize this as compliance. (See more about Google here)
“Many Germany publishers have apparently overestimated their importance,” noted German tech portal gulli.com (October 23). Publishers noticing a significant dip in web traffic asked for a “ceasefire.” VG Media then issued “against their will” an “irrevocable free consent” notice allowing Google to resume indexing with snippets and such to attract web surfers. (See more about media in Germany here)
The Federal Cartel Office is expected to offer its thoughts on Google’s compliance sometime in the middle of next year. Publishers might not be pleased. “At the moment there is no legal instrument to crush Google,” said Bundeskartellamt president Andreas Mundt, quoted by Bild am Sonntag (October 26). “I am very reticent to name a single company as dangerous.” Herr Mundt has resisted calls by publishers for Google to reveal search algorithms as “indirectly a kind of expropriation.” But, of course, German publishers have a civil lawsuit claiming money from Google winding its way through the system.
From Last Weeks ftm Tickle File
Since its earliest days, the end-game for proponents of the digital audio broadcasting (DAB) platform has been shutting down FM transmission. It was presented as inevitable, just like shutting down analogue television. “The future is digital,” has been the commonly offered simplistic reasoning. Many broadcasters, typically in the private sector, put up resistance, however unsteady. Everybody wants to be on the side of the future.
“Radio is already digital,” said German private broadcasters association VPRT radio chairman Klaus Schunk to the Munich Medientage conference. “The debate on the future of radio must include all platforms and devices that listeners use.” Private sector investment in radio broadcasting is “endangered,” he said, by continued “shut-down debate” over the FM platform. (See VPRT statement here – in German) VPRT members have turned their digital attention toward multi-platform chip-set solutions for smartphones.
Herr Schunk also called for limits to the “cut-throat competition” from public broadcasters. “Politicians must keep in mind the significant negative impact on the private radio market.” (See more about media in Germany here)
The Hungarian government is set to impose a tax on internet usage, about €0.50 per gigabyte in a country where the average monthly salary is less than €800. Economy Minister Mihaly Varga laid out the proposal to parliament this week as part of a bigger plan to balance the budget, raise taxes or something. The bare-bones, all that has been available, shows internet service providers (ISPs) paying the Hungarian tax man, presumably passing it on to customers. Hungary’s biggest telecom Magyar Telekom saw an immediate drop in its share price on the news.
“A growing number of people make phone calls over the internet,” explained Minister Varga. Typical data traffic in Hungary could push the potential tax revenue to €600 million, said Deutsche Welle (October 22). Of course, internet access allows far more than cheap telephone calls. In June the Hungarian Parliament passed tax legislation on advertising revenues widely seen as an attempt to throttle foreign commercial television operators not under ideological control of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s ruling right-wing Fidesz Party. (See more about media in Hungary here)
After howls and wails from internet users – including 100,000 Facebook page supporters of a Sunday (October 26) protest – Fidesz MPs, still favoring the tax, made noises about placing the tax pressure exactly where they want it. “We are recommending strict measures so that the telecom tax cannot be passed on in any form to non-business subscribers,” said Fidesz spokesperson Antal Rogán, quoted by portfolio.hu (October 22). “The tax payable on traffic generated by private individuals will need to be paid at the expense of the service providers’ own profit.” Magyar Telekom is principally owned by Deutsche Telekom.
“Unilateral internet taxes are not a clever idea,” said European Commission (EC) vice president for Digital Agenda Neelie Kroes, who leaves office at the end of the month, to the Financial Times (October 21). After winning the latest round of local elections for Fidesz, PM Orban said he’s building an “illiberal democracy.” Shortly thereafter the United States Department of Justice banned six unidentified Hungarians “either engaging in or benefiting from corruption” from entering the US.
Historic Serbian media brand B92 could disappear from television, reported Belgrade tabloid Blic (October 21), quoting unnamed sources. Founders and managers didn’t quite deny that the TV channel will be known as OTV from the first of the year saying only “the public will be informed” of any changes. News-talk radio station B92, originally B2, notably challenged the regime of the late former Yugoslav dictator Slobodan Milosevic from the early 1990’s.
In November 2010 long term shareholders Media Development Loan Fund (MDLF), now known as Media Development Investment Fund, and NCA Media exited as Swedish investor East Capital merged its interest with Greek proprietor Stefanos Papadopoulos to form Astonko as principal owner. The B92 Trust comprised of founders holds a minority interest and, according to covenants at the time, editorial control. Since the ownership change B92 TV has slowly but steadily increased emphasis on entertainment programming.
Starting as an opposition radio station, the B92 brand grew into television, internet distribution, production and music. The B92 radio station, apparently, will not be affected by the change and the B92Info cable TV channel will continue as a news channel. (See more about media in Serbia here)
Media watchers have long suggested hanky-panky in the 2010 ownership change, particularly the interest of Mr. Papadopoulos, who owns TV Macedonia. Serbia’s Commission for Protection of Competition began an investigation at the end of August into whether or not a relationship exists between Mr. Papadopoulos and Greek media house Antenna Media Group, which has principally owned Serbian TV channel Prva Srpska Televizija since the end of 2009. Antenna Media Group manages TV Macedonia for Mr. Papadopoulos.