Francisco Javier Fernández Medina and Enrique Núñez-Mussa
Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile
Public and private broadcasters, print and digital – all aspects of the media in Chile feel like they are facing a crisis, with layoffs, closures, and major restructuring. There is some innovation in the hunt for new audiences and revenues, but everyone is searching for a successful strategy.
Chile is a seismic country, and its news industry has been experiencing tectonic movements and a consequent shakedown. Whatever comes out of these movements, the landscape will be very different for producers and consumers alike. The public broadcaster Televisión Nacional (TVN), funded completely by advertising – and in tough competition with private rivals – faces particular problems because of low ratings and weak ad sales, which has led to newsroom and production layoffs. As a result, its board has changed, it has been hit by strikes, and has received a government cash injection of US$47m to keep it on air. In addition, some senior executives had their pay cut. The broadcaster’s president, Bruno Baranda, announced a multi-platform strategy in the hope of building audiences and making money.
TVN’s cable news channel, 24 Horas, became the most viewed Chilean cable station, beating the local version of CNN. Although it’s not as trusted as CNN, this has been matched with an increase of visitors to its website, making it the country’s second most visited.
Chile has felt somewhat insulated from the rise of so-called ‘fake news’, and even this year the debate has seemed to focus on foreign and well-known cases elsewhere. The effect on confidence in the news in general has permeated local Chilean audiences with trust levels (45%) down 8 percentage points on last year.
Canal 13, a TV station formerly owned by Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile but now a private enterprise, also had significant layoffs because of a revenue crisis. As part of cost-cutting measures, they outsourced audio-visual services, such as camera operators, and also their long-form news stories which will now be made by independent production companies. Despite this, Canal 13’s news bulletin is the second most viewed in the country, and they have pioneered the integration of their TV broadcast with their radio station and online platform, t13.cl.
The crisis has also affected the print industry. Copesa, owner of La Tercera, one of the two big Chilean newspaper companies, closed two of its most prestigious and award-winning paper magazines, Paula and Qué Pasa, with editors and journalists laid off. But the brands returned as online and social publications, produced by new teams and with a new focus on innovative digital products. Another example is an afternoon web newspaper called La Tercera PM which arrives as a newsletter; the company’s radio stations have also strengthened their podcast distribution.
Emol is supposed to be an online version of El Mercurio newspaper, but it works with content produced by a separate newsroom which doesn’t talk to the print newspaper. El Mercurio’s parallel gambit is to upload a digital facsimile edition to capture subscriptions through a recently launched paywall. The reading experience is similar to LUN, a tabloid which is third in the online list, and which has a high readership every year, despite being just a digital edition.
Television remains the most important traditional news source in Chile, beating radio and newspapers. MEGA, the leading TV station, which is home to many of the most popular programmes and the most watched news broadcast, AhoraNoticias, has fared better in the economic crisis than the rest of the media. Bolstered by the robustness of its position, it opened a second television station – Mega Plus – for cable and terrestrial digital television, with news, documentaries, and lifestyle topics. It’s integrated with its information radio station Imagina and incorporates visual versions of radio shows in the TV schedule.
Social media, especially Instagram, is mainly used as a way of drawing attention to content which is produced on other platforms. It is used more for advertising than for journalism, with content often condensed to help comprehension. There is little original material produced for these platforms, and there is limited interaction, though MEGA and Paula have made some attempts to do this. Live streams with user comments have been used by some publishers, with 13.cl (Canal 13) also operating a small team dedicated to working on mobile journalism and online video.
Online and social media are used by the vast majority for news each week, with both WhatsApp and YouTube becoming more influential and Facebook losing some ground. Smartphones have become the main way of accessing news (80%) in the last three years, with computers on the decline.
Trust in the news has fallen substantially in the last year, but this may be more related to global rather than local trends. Journalism in Chile tends to be less polarised than many other countries in the region. Radio and TV brands top the list for audience-rated trust, with tabloid newspapers and online sites near the bottom.