Francisco Javier Fernández Medina and Eduardo Arriagada
Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile
The news media in Chile are extremely centralised, with the main newspapers, both paid and free, and TV and radio stations based in the capital city, Santiago.
During recent years, the most important players in the news media have been the free-to-air television stations, particularly the four with the largest audience: the public broadcaster, Televisión Nacional de Chile (TVN), and three commercial TV stations, Canal 13, Mega, and Chilevisión. Historically Chile’s main television channels were owned by, and had their roots in, the university sector, although in practice programming was similar to that found in the private sector. But in 2016, the last university-owned broadcaster was sold to a group linked with Disney, making Chile’s TV industry much more like stations elsewhere in Latin America.
The transition to digital terrestrial television has been slow, although it is expected that in 2017 the national channels will be present in all regional capitals. Our data show that broadcasters are still the preferred way of consuming news, but many have lost a significant amount of weekly reach in the transition to online. Mega for example reaches over half (53%) of our Chilean respondents on TV, but only 16% through the online versions of its main news programme, Ahoranoticias. Canal 13 reaches 55% via television but just 13% visit t.13, the online version of news programme Teletrece.
A key issue for debate has been the role of public broadcasting since TVN lost its ratings lead, prompting changes in the executive governance arrangements for the station. Although TVN is independent of government, President Bachelet announced a $75m support package to help with the technological challenge of digital television switchover and to fund the creation of a new public and free-to-air TV station for educational and cultural content. In the months that followed, TVN improved its ratings, partly thanks to its coverage of the Olympic Games in Rio, as well as the main news programme, and some new soap operas. But by the end of the year, TVN remained in fourth place, behind the private broadcasters Canal 13, Chilevisión, and Mega.
The top five online media brands are linked with printed media. Emol and LUN belong to the Chile’s mainstream newspaper El Mercurio, and La Tercera.cl is the online version of the tabloid La Tercera, principal competitor of El Mercurio. In the third place is Biobiochile.cl, the website of radio station BioBio, which has branched out from audio to become a multimedia hub using extensive text, images, and video. This appears to have paid off, as other radio sites, such as Cooperativa and ADN, appear lower down in our rankings.
In online media, two cases stand out: El Mostrador and El Ciudadano. Both produce high-quality opinion and analysis and are valued for their coverage of the complexities of Chilean politics.
Official data (Subtel) shows that nearly 80% of all internet access is made from a mobile phone.1 Chile therefore leads the use of smartphones in Latin America and in our survey around three-quarters of respondents (76%) say they use mobile phones to access news weekly. A study from the main mobile phone provider in Chile shows that around 90% of smartphone users actively use Facebook, and 85% use Google, YouTube, and WhatsApp. These numbers help explain why Facebook and WhatsApp are the most important social media and messenger brands for news access. Most broadcast brands have started to use WhatsApp voice messaging to engage with their audiences, particularly radio stations as such BioBio, Cooperativa, and ADN.
News media, mainly broadcasters and digital-born, often use WhatsApp as a source, sometimes without properly verifying the source. In order to attract the audience’s attention, it is not uncommon to include viral content from social media as part of mainstream content, which has led to concerns about declining quality.