Kim Christian Schrøder and Mark Ørsten
The media environment in Denmark is characterised by two public broadcasters (DR and TV2) and a national and local press partly dependent on state subsidies, but now a right-wing government is trying to redefine the balance between commercial and public media.
After a heated and often ideological debate, the right-wing coalition government decided in March 2018 to reduce the annual budget of the main public service institution (DR) by 20%, a cut to be gradually phased over the next five years. This move was accompanied by a decision, more widely approved across the political spectrum, to abolish the licence fee, deemed to be unfair towards the young and other low-income groups, and instead finance DR directly out of state taxation.
These cuts come at a time of increasing concern about the challenges to the Danish culture and language in an increasingly globalised media landscape. One important catalyst for this debate was the report The Impact of International Actors on the Danish Media Market, by the Danish Agency for Culture and Palaces, published in September 2017, which analysed the forces which are eroding the Danish media system. The report highlighted ways in which global tech giants are affecting advertising revenues of private media, but by implication also cultural production, distribution, and consumption, including news, demonstrating how these global giants are using the collection of data to drive massive and irreversible change. The report recommended robust and collaborative strategies to ensure the continued sustainability of cultural and journalistic production, and a complete rethink of media regulation and subsidy.
After the takeover of Denmark’s oldest newspaper group Berlingske by the Belgian De Persgroep in 2016, and Berlingske’s acquisition of the free newspaper MetroXpress, the company’s new CEO, Anders Krab-Johansen, carried out a dramatic cost-cutting operation and digital turnaround, in which the page production of all the group’s newspapers was outsourced. The tabloid BT and free daily MetroXpress were partly merged, and Metro’s online news site and the fledgling online Kids News were closed.
Payment for online news has stagnated at 15% since 2017, placing Denmark at 14th out of 37 countries. All major newspapers use freemium models online and are struggling to increase payment levels for online news. Major newspapers have increased minimum online subscriptions to around €35 per month, and have simplified a number of online subscription packages to include the complete e-paper.
Only two newspaper groups, JP/Politikens Hus and Børsen, could boast a profit without counting the state subsidy that still supports commercial news media. Berlingske, Information, and regional group Sjællandske Medier, would have been in the red without the subsidy, and many others announced losses despite it.
The state subsidy is given to private news media in proportion to the number of journalists they employ, other criteria being a socially diverse readership and the creation of democratically important political and cultural content. Typical annual subsidy levels are: niche nationals like Kristeligt Dagblad and Information €3.3m; broad and tabloid national dailies €2.3m; regional daily €1.7m; local daily €400,000; born-online €500,000.
Zetland is one digital-born site that has attracted international interest in the last year for both its innovative approach and commercial success. It publishes three to four news articles daily, focusing on long-form stories and in-depth articles. It has increased its subscriptions to 10,000, partly as a result of making all stories available in audio, read by the author.
Responding to the difficulties of reaching young groups, a small handful of news sites are seeking — with the help of innovation subsidies — to appeal to children, teenagers, and young adults through specially targeted content: Format (20–30 year olds, JP/Politiken); Koncentrat (teenagers, aiming for school subscriptions); Ultra Nyt (7–12 year olds, DR channel 3, online and TV); TV2 (20–30 year olds, videos through social media platforms).
Newspaper readership continued to drop by approximately 10% on weekdays and approximately 15% on Sundays (industry figures). Our reach figures are near-stationary, with both offline and online reach displaying the same rankings as 2017, with Radio 27syv continuing its upward movement; most fluctuations are at plus/minus 1-3 points. Smartphones continue to grow in importance as a news platform (+7). Television, printed newspapers, and online sources of news are plateauing or have dropped slightly since 2017, while social media continue to decline as a source of news (-7 with Facebook declining 5 points), perhaps as a consequence of increasing concerns about ‘fake news’.
The number accessing news via smartphone has now outstripped those using computers. Social media news use has started to decline (-8 points) following years of growth while print newspapers sell fewer copies than in other Nordic countries.
Sources and Devices for News
It is striking that quality news brands across the public service/private media divide (e.g. DR, TV2, Børsen, Berlingske, Politiken) have similarly high trust scores. Tabloids tend to be less trusted while far right-wing news outlet Denkorteavis finds much credibility amongst its loyal users, but not with those who have just heard of the brand.