Research Fellow, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism
The media environment is characterised by a strong television sector, a weak and declining print sector, and a growing use of internet and social media for news.
TV news bulletins remain the main source of information for Italians, although the internet is growing in importance because of the role of social media and smartphones in discovering and consuming news.
The TV market remains highly concentrated. Almost 90% of overall revenues are generated by just three main operators: the pay-TV Sky Italia (33%), the commercial group Mediaset (28%), and the public broadcaster RAI (28%). In contrast to the decline of the print sector, Italian TV advertising revenues were stable in 2015.1
Newspaper readership has always been low in Italy and the press landscape consists of commercially weak quality papers addressing an elite and politically defined audience. The weakness of the Italian press has fostered its reliance on external sources of financing, such as public subsidies and private business sponsorship, which has made it somewhat subject to both political and economic influence. Newspaper circulation in Italy has decreased from more than 6 million copies per day in 2000 to a little more than 2.5 million in 2016.2 The two main players, Gruppo Espresso, which publishes La Repubblica, and RCS, which publishes Il Corriere della Sera, together account for about 40% of the sector revenue.3
There have been a number of significant developments in the publishing sector over the last year. The Italian anti-trust authority approved Gruppo Espresso’s takeover of ITEDI, which publishes La Stampa and was previously owned by car-maker Fiat Chrysler. Business tycoon Urbano Cairo, who already owned the commercial TV channel La7, has now taken control of the publishing group RCS. Finally, Il Sole 24 Ore, the business newspaper owned by Confindustria (the Italian employers’ federation), is facing a difficult economic situation and legal troubles because of an investigation into suspected fictitious registration of digital subscriptions.
The online news market is still dominated by legacy players. The websites with the widest online reach are those of the main newspapers (La Repubblica, Il Corriere della Sera, Il Fatto Quotidiano), the main commercial TV broadcasters (the Mediaset’s TgCom24.it and SkyTg24), and the main news agency (ANSA). The RAI’s news offer has slightly increased its online reach, but it still far from matching its extensive reach via radio and television. The public service operator has recently launched a video-on-demand platform, RaiPlay, that is mainly focused on entertainment and has already generated positive audience results. However, the RAI’s plan to reform its news departments and to enhance its digital news offer was delayed by internal disagreements.
Portals like Yahoo News, Notizie.Libero, and MSN news are still widely used along with a few second-generation digital-born outlets, especially the Huffington Post Italia (which is a joint-enterprise with Gruppo Espresso) and Fanpage (a digital start-up that makes an effective use of social media for distributing its hard and soft news content). Other digital-born outlets, such as Il Post (5%), Dagospia (5%), CityNews (4%), Linkiesta (3%), Lettera43 (3%), and Blogo (2%), generate limited audience results, as does BuzzFeed News (2%).
Data on brand attributes show how different types of Italian outlets fulfil diverse needs of their audiences. More politicised outlets such as Ilfattoquotidiano.it and, partially, Repubblica.it are especially valued for their strong opinions; ANSA, a rare example of news agency that has attracted significant online reach, is particularly valued for accuracy; finally, the digital-born player Fanpage is mainly appreciated for its amusing and entertaining content.
Despite the recent adoption of paywall solutions by some Italian outlets (e.g. by Il Corriere della Sera), the number of people who pay for online news remains relatively low (12%). WhatsApp use for news has risen from 20% to 24%.
In early 2017, following the public discussion about fake news, steps are being taken to combat its impact. First, the website of a blogger close to Beppe Grillo’s party, 5 Stars Movement, was accused of misleading its users and excluded by the Google AdSense network.4 Second, a bill to tackle fake news websites was presented for discussion in the Parliament by the MP Adele Gambaro. The bill establishes fines up to €10,000 and two years’ imprisonment for websites that publish fake news. However, the proposed legislation faced criticism for lacking a clear definition of fake news.
Television remains the main source of news for most Italians, especially when you take into account the relatively low internet penetration compared with other European countries. Older people still rely on traditional news sources, with the young preferring online and social media.
The partisan nature of Italian journalism, combined with the strong political and business influence on news organisations, has led to particularly low levels of trust in the news. The debate on fake news is also vigorous in Italy, where in early 2017 a website has been excluded by the Google AdSense network and a bill to combat fake news websites has been presented for discussion in the Parliament.
- https://www.agcom.it/documents/10179/7278186/Comunicato+stampa+21-03-2017/c5e2e035-02aa-49b4-a590-c7a55ece7bc3?version=1.0 ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- http://www.ilblogdellestelle.it/la_liberta_della_rete_sopra_ogni_cosa.html (see also http://www.primaonline.it/2017/01/29/252685/fake-news-google-toglie-la-pubblicita-a-byoblu-il-sito-di-claudio-messora-per-il-blog-di-grillo-e-un-attentato-alla-liberta-della-rete) ↩