Francisco Javier Fernández Medina
Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, Santiago
News access on social media is growing in Chile, but the most important source of news is still free-to-air television. Responding to shrinking audiences and declining advertising revenues, television brands have started to expand to other platforms for content delivery.
It has been a hectic year in the Chilean media industry. Universidad Católica de Chile sold its share of Canal 13 to Andrónico Luksic, one of the richest businessmen in the country, who had already acquired a big part of the television station in 2010. This marks the end of ‘university television’, a model that was established almost 60 years ago when the government gave television activity to four universities. This development further increases the commercialisation of TV news, bringing Chile closer in line with other Latin American countries.
For its part, the public station, Televisión Nacional (TVN), got a capital injection of US $47m for the digitalisation of its signal throughout the country, and another US $18m for the creation of a cultural channel on terrestrial digital television. This injection of public money to support digitisation has reopened the debate about the role and funding of public media in Chile. TVN is the only public television service in Latin America that is financed solely through advertising (and other TV services offered to private companies), which means that it needs to compete with commercial channels for revenue and for an increasingly elusive audience.
Mega, the first private station in the country, remains the leader in terms of weekly reach (51%), and is home to many of the most popular programmes and the most watched news broadcast, AhoraNoticias. However, according to our survey, it is not the most trusted news brand, finding itself in sixth place. Bío Bío Chile emerged with the highest level of trust by those who had heard of the brand. This radio station, originally founded as a local media in Concepción, became a national media player in 1991 before expanding online. Its trust comes from a journalistic track record characterised by its slogan, ‘Independientes de verdad’ (Truly independent).
Although many TV brands continue to perform well, advertising revenues across the industry have declined, leading several publishers to pursue greater media diversification. Examples of this include Mega’s acquisition of three radio stations, the consolidation of T13 Radio (the news station of Canal 13), and creation of an FM radio station in Santiago by newspaper El Mercurio.
The switchover to digital terrestrial television continues according to the schedule set by the government to reach the entire nation by the end of the decade. Meanwhile, pay television (cable and satellite) added just over 3m subscribers with a growth of 4.6% in the last year. More than half of this figure corresponds to satellite television. In parallel, subscriptions to video-on-demand service Netflix grew 32.5% in the Chilean market between 2016 and 2017.
There is a clear growing trend towards majority consumption of online news on portable devices, among which the smartphone is the preferred choice, used by 82% of the online population according to our survey. Search and social media are also popular with Chileans, reflected in both the very high usage figures and the relatively high trust people have in news from these platforms.
Presidential elections were held in November 2017, in which the right-wing candidate Sebastián Piñera was elected in the second round. The campaign featured a relatively small number of false news stories that were promoted through social media. A study made by El Mercurio detected only around 80 fake news stories generated by less than 20 websites read or shared by 3.5m people on social media (Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp) between January and November.1 Fake news is a relatively recent phenomenon in Chile and, unlike in other countries, there has not been significant public discussion about the issue.
Trust in the news in general (53%) has risen over the last year by 6 percentage points, while trust in social media (40%) and search (48%) is also relatively high by international standards. Differences in trust between newspaper, broadcast, and online news brands may partly relate to content and partly to design, and active presence in social media.
- El Mercurio (2017), ‘Noticias falsas sobre Chile fueron vistas o compartidas 3,5 millones de veces en redes sociales este año’: http://www.economiaynegocios.cl/noticias/noticias.asp?id=420624 ↩