Former Reuters Institute Journalist Fellow and financial journalist
The Brazilian media market is characterised by strong commerical broadcasters, popular online portals, and a legacy newspaper sector struggling to find new business models. At the same time, Brazilians are some of the most enthusiastic users of social networks and messaging apps in the world.
Though the numbers are slowly changing, TV continues to be the most powerful media outlet in the country. In 2017, Brazilians watched an average of six hours and 23 minutes of TV each day– six minutes more than the previous year, according to Kantar Ibope Media. Moreover, free-to-air TV stations attracted 53.6% of the gross advertising investment in the country, a marginal decrease over 2016.
Newspapers’ advertising share was almost stable in annual terms. However, the total circulation of the top 11 paid-for dailies continued to shrink. In the past three years, the number of print copies sold fell by 41.4% whilst digital circulation rose 5.8% (IVC Brasil). The declining tendency might explain why the major Brazilian dailies tightened their online paywalls in 2017.
At least three regional newspapers reduced the frequency with which they publish in the last year. Founded in 1919, Gazeta do Povo — one of the most influential dailies in the southern state of Paraná — became a weekly publication, focusing resources on its digital version. In the north-east region, two papers published in the state of Piauí (Meio Norte and O Dia) shifted from seven to six days-a-week delivery, putting out weekend editions. Furthermore, the fashion magazine Estilo, a Brazilian version of the US title InStyle, was closed at the end of 2017.
Facebook’s decision to modify the algorithm that runs the news feed, prioritising ‘meaningful interactions’ over ‘relevant content’, caused the best-selling Brazilian daily, Folha de S. Paulo, to stop publishing its content on the social media platform in February 2018. At that time, the paper had 5.9m followers on Facebook. According to data compiled by Folha de S. Paulo, the number of interactions (shares, comments, and likes) generated by Brazil’s ten largest newspapers on Facebook fell 32% in January, when compared to the same month last year. An article published on the paper’s website said that algorithm changes would facilitate ‘the spread of fake news’.
Amidst the growing debate about fake news in the country, Brazil’s top electoral court started to discuss with the press and the leading social media companies ways to combat the problem in preparation for the 2018’s presidential elections. The Brazilian federal police has said it will identify and punish authors of fake news in the absence of new legislation. Brazil has 145m voters and 130m Facebook users (Statista).
Brazilians’ passion for social networks shows no sign of waning but there’s clearly a change in preferences going on. Two-thirds (66%) of respondents to our survey use social media as a source of news. That’s almost the same figure as the previous year. Nonetheless, the use of Facebook for news continued to decline, falling from 69% to 52% in two years.
At the same time, WhatsApp and Instagram use grew, not only for news consumption but for other purposes too. Brazil has the second largest user base on Instagram, with 50m monthly active users.1 And WhatsApp had 120m users in the country by May 2017.2
The country’s economic recovery in 2017, after two years of recession, contributed to a 15% growth in computer sales — after half a decade of declining results (IDC Brasil). This surge in the market for PCs seems to have influenced the choice of devices used by Brazilians to consume journalistic content. Smartphone use also continues to grow.
The four biggest TV broadcasters in the country were, once again, ranked as the top offline brands in terms of weekly usage. The overall percentage of Brazilians that pay for online news stood at 22%, the fourth highest among a sample of 37 countries — in line with the rather modest growth of digital newspaper subscriptions during the last three years. The use of ad-blockers increased by almost a third over the last year as Brazilians seem to be more concerned about security and privacy issues.
*Data are from urban Brazil, rather than a fully nationally representative sample. This will tend to represent richer and more connected users.
Brazilians are some of the most enthusiastic users of social media in the world, but use for news has declined markedly since 2016. Most of this relates to lower interest in Facebook as newer networks such as Instagram and WhatsApp have been embraced. This goes hand-in-hand with strong growth in smartphones use for news over the last five years.
Trust in news overall stood at a high level of 59%, well above that of the news found in social media (32%). The debate about fake news and the influence of social media on this year’s presidential elections grew in intensity in the aftermath of the scandal involving Facebook and Cambridge Analytica that came to light in March.