University of Tampere, Finland
The news environment is characterised by a strong regional press, strong public broadcaster (YLE), one important national daily (Helsingin Sanomat), and two popular evening tabloids, both reaching over half of the adult population.
The established Finnish media companies have sustained their strong and trusted audience position over the last year with almost no threat from foreign news media. The Finnish language and small market seem to shield national news brands somewhat from international competition. One sign of a potential change was, though, the rise of MSN News from 6% in 2017 to 9% weekly reach this year. It offers its content in Finnish as well as English. The most popular digital-born player, uusisuomi.fi, a national news and blog site, retained its 9% weekly reach.1 Other reasons for the popularity of traditional Finnish media companies online are the amount of free content still available (especially from the evening tabloids and YLE) combined with bundled subscriptions and a strong reading tradition.
At the same time, newspapers’ print circulations have continued their decline — a serious problem for their owners because most revenue still comes from print. This has encouraged Finnish media companies to find business in new areas, making use of their user data and marketing skills. Online marketplaces (cars, homes, recruiting) have increased their importance in Finnish media companies’ portfolios.
Overall, 2017 was a relatively good year for the major Finnish media companies in terms of profitability. The operating income for Sanoma Media Finland was 12% (up 33%), Alma Media 14% (up 45%), and Keskisuomalainen 8% (up 28%).2 In 2018, Alma Media sold its newspaper and distribution business in Lapland to Kaleva, thus limiting its focus in local and regional media in Tampere and Pori regions. In 2017, Kaleva had already strengthened its position in Northern Finland by buying three local papers near Oulu from Alma Media.
Some positive signals also came from digital subscriptions, with the share of paying customers growing to 18% after staying around 15% in 2014–17. Future willingness to pay among non-subscribers also rose 5 percentage points to 11%. This may be due to the tightening of paywalls and younger readers becoming accustomed to paying for digital services. Helsingin Sanomat said it increased its subscribers (including digital) for the first time in 25 years.
The percentage paying for online news is higher than in most countries, which may partly be because Finnish newspapers eased their print readers into digital by bundling subscriptions at a similar price – or just a little higher — than print-only subscriptions.
The media in Finland is waiting for the government to decide to cut the 24% VAT for digital media to the same level as print subscriptions (10%). This has been delayed because the government, for its part, is waiting for the EU’s decision to let member states determine their own VAT level.
In 2017 YLE streamlined and refocused its organisation, cutting 6% of its permanent staff. The discussion about its position and impact on private news media continued, especially about its online services which competitors say lead to unfair competition since they need no ads or subscriptions. Industry body Finnmedia has asked the EU Commission to investigate if public funding for YLE’s text-based content counts as forbidden ‘state aid’. However, a parliamentary committee has suggested that index-linking of YLE’s funding should be restored from 2019. Following suggestions of a working group, the Ministry of Transport and Communications granted a €3m allowance to private MTV for securing plurality in television news.
The most popular partisan site in Finland is MV-Lehti, which offers content with an anti-immigration and anti-legacy-media slant, often using offensive irony3. Almost half (48%) of our sample said they were aware of the site but only 5% had used it in the previous week. The site rebranded as MV-media at the beginning of 2018, and changed its leadership, following a police investigation into alleged incitement against an ethnic group and other allegations.
Despite such attempts to erode trust in established players, the legacy media have sustained their reputation for being trustworthy. This is probably due to the low level of polarisation in Finnish society and media. A relatively strong professional culture among journalists which values objectivity and independence may have had an impact too.
There have been no major shifts in consumption over the last year, with the exception of continued decline in the use of print newspapers and magazines. This has fallen by 9 percentage points in the last three years. News consumption on smartphones continues to rise sharply to 64%.
The high level of trust is probably due to the low level of political polarisation in Finnish society and media. For all the biggest newspaper and television brands (apart from the evening tabloids), the share of those that do not trust their news (score less than 5) is less than 10%.
- Although uusisuomi.fi has adopted its name from a former newspaper it is a new enterprise and is classified here as a pure player. ↩
- Source: Suomen Lehdistö, Feb. 2018. ↩
- YLE article on the track record of MV-Lehti https://yle.fi/aihe/artikkeli/2015/03/23/valheenpaljastaja-uutista-helppo-matkia ↩