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The Tickle File is ftm's daily column of media news, complimenting the feature articles on major media issues. Tickle File items point out media happenings, from the oh-so serious to the not-so serious, that should not escape notice...in a shorter, more informal format.

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Week of November 13, 2017

Legacy news executive to exit, calls out advertising, the internet
"massive is massive"

Chief executive of Grupo Prisa Juan Luis Cebrián told shareholders this week he will relinquish that position at the end of this year. He proposed Manuel Polanco, currently executive vice president, as successor. Sr. Cebrián will remain president of Spanish daily newspaper El Pais, which he co-founded in 1976. Sr. Polanco is the son of Jesús de Polanco, El Pais co-founder who passed away in 2007.

A day earlier (November 14) Grupo Prisa shareholders argued about a capital injection. Facing continued losses and “a mountain of debt,” said the Financial Times (November 16), investors led by hedge fund Amber Capital wanted Sr. Cebrián to step down. Grupo Prisa owns El Pais, sports daily As, business daily Cinco Dias, pay-T channel Prisa TV, a majority stake in Prisa Radio that operates several Spanish national radio channels including Cadena SER, a 15% stake in France national daily La Monde and several holdings across Latin America. The company exited Portuguese unit Media Capital in July and has been seeking a buyer for business book publisher Santillana. (See more about media in Spain here)

Speaking at the Nueva Economía Fórum in Madrid a day after announcing his exit, reported dircomfidencial.com (November 16), Sr. Cebrián delivered a bleak assessment. “Advertising will not return to the printed newspaper. It is a worldwide phenomenon. And we will see in 10 or 15 years if there are places where newspapers are sold and if there are citizens who want to buy them.”

“It is a lethal crisis,” he continued. "We are facing a process of inevitable industrial restructuring. There will be a massive loss of employment in distribution and production. Massive is massive.”

He also had a few choice words about digital media, referring to the internet as a “garbage dump” where “organized groups” create “misinformation.” Fake news and “emotional truth” have weakened traditional media “because you do not know what is true or false. We are facing a change of true civilization.”

A gaffe is something said that ultimately reveals truth - Updated
TV still for couch potatoes

Who cannot know the pressures on TV companies and their chief executives today? Advertisers are freaking out, viewers unpredictable, video-on-demand on the rise, shareholders demanding growth, growth and more growth. All the while, YouTube and Facebook get all the digital money. There’s so little time to think.

It is a challenging time for ProSiebenSat1 Media and its chief executive Thomas Ebeling. Last week after cutting ad revenue forecasts for the fourth time this year on falling audience estimates and writing-off €170 million invested in US programming, stock-traders severely punished the company. Mr. Ebeling, then, took questions from financial journalists in the requisite conference call.

Like every other TV company chief executive in the world, Mr. Ebeling was asked to explain the Netflix phenomenon and how that differs from the traditional TV neighborhood. It’s the viewers, he said. “They are human beings who are slightly obese, slightly poor, who still like to sit on the couch and lean back and really like to get entertained. This is a key audience which is not changing. Don’t mix up us with American markets where people have to pay for crappy content. We give good content for free.”

German media watchers, always looking for a juicy story, were alert and engaged. “The boss is so distant … his understanding of customer orientation is upside-down,” said Handelsblatt’s Catrin Bialek (November 15). “A bit crude, Ebeling-style precisely,” wrote Stefan Winterbauer in media news portal Meedia (November 15). “It’s not exactly helpful when the CEO speaks disparagingly of the viewers,” said Caspar Busse in Süddeutsche Zeitung (November 15). “It recalls the old cliché of junk TV.” (See more about media in Germany here)

Of course, a company spokesperson almost immediately said the question - from a French journalist, no less - was “provocative,” the answer taken out of context, certainly an error in translation. Damage done; German media news portal dwdl.de (November 15) had the transcript. In a statement, quoted by Reuters (November 15), Mr. Ebeling apologized profusely for the “pointed exaggeration to illustrate different means of enjoying television. My comments were unfortunately misunderstood.” The ProSiebenSat1 media board, reported Süddeutsche Zeitung, has begun the inevitable search for a new chief executive.

UPDATE: ProSiebenSat1 Media and chief executive Thomas Ebeling “mutually agreed” that he will leave the company in February next year, reported Die Zeit (November 19), citing a company statement. He has been chief executive since 2009 with his current contract expiring in 2019. Previously he had indicated he would “not be available for a further extension.”

Reporters losing patience with platitudes
"beautiful things"

The European Union-sponsored Western Balkans Media Days conference in Tirana, Albania concluded last week with an official promise of “additional funds for support to improving media freedom and professional journalism,” said the official statement (November 10). Addressing the audience of about 250 regional media representatives were several important people, including Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn and Albanian prime minister Edi Rama. After appropriately diplomatic and reserved remarks the headliners left the stage to the assembled reporters, editors and publishers for two days of discussions.

“The precarious economic situation of media enterprises is a global phenomenon, but it affects much more the less developed media markets in countries in transition such as the Western Balkans,” said Commissioner Hahn opening the conference. “Professional journalism faces also a ruthless competition from fake-news producers neglecting any commitment to quality standards and authenticity of information.”

As conference participants took to the podium about a dozen people, thought to be Serbian journalists, stood up wearing black t-shirts emblazoned in white letters with #EU do More #For Media Freedom. For the Western Balkans news media it is simply black and white. (See more about media in the Western Balkans here)

“The European Commission strongly supports (Serbian president Aleksandar) Vucic’s government and is very grateful publicly about it and its reforms. And our life is quite the opposite,” said Center for Investigative Journalism in Serbia (CINS) director Branko Cecen, quoted by danas.rs (November 10). “Today in (Commissioner) Hahn’s speech we heard the most beautiful things about investigative journalism in the Western Balkans. But what we need from the EU and what we do not get, and what the Vucic government is getting, is public political support. Support is given to a completely undemocratic person who is the head of state and suffocates media freedom and we do not have it.”

“Please, make us believe that media freedom is at the heart of the EU accession process,” said Serbian news weekly Vreme writer Tamara Skrozza, quoted by Croatian news portal vecernji.hr (November 11). “Because, we are sorry, we do not believe it anymore.”

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