Kim Christian Schrøder and Mark Ørsten
Denmark’s media are adjusting to significant changes and reductions in funding to public service broadcasting along with increased subsidies for private media, both introduced by a right-wing government.
In a break with traditions of broad political compromises about media regulation, in June 2018 Denmark’s government introduced a controversial media settlement for the next five years. Denmark has two public broadcasters, DR and TV2, and a national and local press partly supported by state subsidies, and the changes reduce total public funding of media by €54m.
The specific changes involve a 20% funding cut for the main public service provider, DR, from €508m to €415m in 2023. At the same time, the press subsidy programme gets extra money, which will benefit online and local media. A fund that gives private media support for specific public service content is boosted from €4.7m to €13.3m. Finally, there is a new requirement for the new holder of the radio franchise FM4 (currently run by Radio 24syv) to move its headquarters at least 110 km from Copenhagen.
The settlement for DR will reduce staffing by 375 jobs (85 in news), reduce its number of TV channels from six to three, and cut radio channels from eight to five. The contract forbids the production of long in-depth text-based news articles online, intended as a measure to strengthen private news organisations’ competitive power. Cuts will affect entertainment, sport, and imported drama more than news.
Opposition parties say they are prepared to roll back parts of the government’s legislation if they come to power after this year’s general election, saying they would aim to restore the strength of public service media and to curb the influence of international tech giants.
In print, most national and regional newspaper readership continued to drop by 10% or more on weekdays and 3–15% on Sundays (industry figures). But niche newspapers Information and Kristeligt Dagblad saw increases of just under 10%. Politiken’s Sunday edition also increased readership by 10%. Advertising revenues for print newspapers dropped 14% in 2018.
Since February 2019, the key TV news providers have been competing head-to-head for late-night news viewers, after TV2 Nyhederne moved its 10pm newscast to 9.30pm. DR so far has kept its audience share, and before TV2’s announcement had already decided to move its bulletin to 9pm in 2020.
The tabloid BT and free daily MetroXpress were partly merged in April 2018. Online newsletter Føljeton has barely reached the break-even point. Longread-plus-news overview Zetland still runs a substantial deficit. One strategy to counter these difficulties has been to produce audio versions of articles, a path also taken by the free politics-focused online newspaper Altinget, and big mainstream news media like Politiken.
Concerns over the possible growth in misinformation during the national elections has led news magazine Mandag Morgen to set up a fact-checking unit. It will collaborate with Facebook about intercepting misinformation.1
Payment for online news has stagnated at 15% since 2017. All major newspapers use freemium models online, and are struggling to increase payment levels. In 2018 major newspapers priced online subscriptions at around €35 per month, the main exception being Berlingske with its €15 offer.
The state subsidy is given to private news media in relation to the number of journalists they employ, the social diversity of their readership, and the amount of democratically important political and cultural content they create. Niche nationals receive an average subsidy of €3.3m; broadsheet and tabloid national dailies €2.3m; regional dailies €1.6m; local dailies €400,000; online native sites €500,000.
It is still proving hard to run sustainable news media targeting children and young adults. Young people have less brand loyalty and prefer multiple sources or aggregators with a blend of several brands.
In 2018, Berlingske closed its Kids News (printed weekly, 6–12 years). JP/Politiken closed Format (online, 20-to-30-year-olds) after just eight months, partly due to disappointing user referrals from Facebook. Similarly Vice (online, 20-to-30-year-olds) launched its youth-oriented online news magazine in May 2018 only to close it in February 2019. The market still includes print weeklies for 9-to-12-year-olds, online news for teenagers, online videos for 20-to-30-year-olds, and daily podcasts, some of which receive a public subsidy.
Danes use social media less for news than many other countries. Facebook plateaued in 2019, while Instagram and WhatsApp, are relatively new on the Danish media scene. DR News, niche financial newspaper Børsen, and born-online, political news-oriented Altinget have begun to cautiously explore morning chatbot newsletters and alerts on Facebook Messenger.2
In 2019 there is a continued move away from accessing news on computers and tablets, towards smartphones. More than two-thirds of the Danes now use their smartphones to access news.
News trust levels are slightly up on last year, in contrast to many other European countries. Public broadcasters DR and TV2 still carry the most trust with popular tabloid Ekstra Bladet and extreme-right Den Korte Avis trusted least by the Danish public.