Former Reuters Institute Journalist Fellow and financial journalist
*Data are from urban Brazil, rather than a fully nationally representative sample. This will tend to represent richer and more connected users.
Strong commercial television broadcasters dominate the media environment in Brazil. Media ownership is concentrated in the hands of a few domestic groups, but social media are playing an increasingly important role in news consumption.
Although internet penetration continues to rise quickly, the web’s popularity is still no match for television. More than 97% of Brazilian households have a TV set, but as recently as 2015 only one in every two homes was connected to the internet. Nevertheless, online platforms are already the main source of information for people in urban areas, especially those with higher income and education levels.
The enduring recession – the worst on record in Brazil – has continued to hurt the media. By December 2016, the total circulation of the top five paid-for dailies had fallen almost 8% when compared to the average number of copies sold in 2015.1 The harsh economic conditions led to the closure of at least two radio stations, one local TV broadcaster, and seven print media outlets; including the second oldest newspaper in Brazil, Jornal do Commercio, founded in Rio de Janeiro in 1827.2 Both TV and print media lost some of their importance as news sources in the last year, according to the respondents to our survey.
Despite the overall decrease in newspaper circulation, the number of digital subscribers saw steady growth, as an increasing number of dailies adopted paywalls and launched electronic editions. On August 2016, Folha de S. Paulo – the best-selling daily title in the country – announced that its digital circulation had surpassed that of its print edition. However, the overall percentage of our urban Brazilian respondents that pay for online news (22%) hasn’t changed from the previous year.
Legacy news brands remained the most popular in the online environment but there’s been a noticeable shift in the devices used to access journalistic content on the web. In 2016 smartphones overtook computers as the prime channel for the consumption of online news.
Amidst growing unemployment and market changes, more than 36 million mobile lines have been disconnected by telecom operators in the past two years, according to the federal regulator. This is particularly important when we consider that – according to the Brazilian Media Survey, conducted by the government – 91% of the internet users in the country access the web via mobile phone. Nonetheless, online platforms remain the main source of news within urban Brazil, since the penetration of mobile services remains high.
Investment in online advertising rose 26% when compared to 2015, driven by a 115% surge in funds spent on video commercials on the internet (IAB Brasil and comScore). Ad-blockers are less of a problem (17%) for the Brazilian digital advertising market when compared with other countries. Our survey shows that ad-blockers were installed on just 8% of smartphones.
Although social media are still extremely popular in Brazil, their use as a news source lost momentum last year, just as Facebook and its peers seemed destined to outstrip TV. Almost eight in ten Brazilians use Facebook for any purpose, but the use of paywalls by the leading Brazilian newspapers may be slightly reducing social media news sharing. Already a favourite among Brazilians, WhatsApp reached new levels of popularity as telecom operators started to offer special WhatsApp pay-as-you-go data packages with almost unlimited messages, boosting its use as a tool to share news.
In line with the international debate about fake news, some media outlets – like the web portal G1 and the newspaper O Globo – recently announced fact-checking teams to investigate news published on the internet, rumours spread on social media, and even information taken from official announcements.
Smartphones have overtaken computers as the main device for accessing news for the first time this year. Social media for news has declined slightly after several years of strong growth with sharing and participation moving to closed messaging services like WhatsApp.
The impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff and its aftermath focused the attention of the news media during 2016. As a result of the extremely polarised political environment, the percentage of people that believe that media is free from undue political influence fell from 36% to 30%, year-on-year, but overall trust in news continued to be high.
- Instituto Verificador de Comunicação (IVC) and National Association of Newspapers (Associação Nacional de Jornais). ↩
- http://portal.comunique-se.com.br/balanco-de-2016-ao-menos-11-veiculos-de-comunicacao-foram-encerrados-no-brasil ↩