Population 46m
Internet penetration 87%

Samuel Negredo, Avelino Amoedo, and Alfonso Vara
Center for Internet Studies and Digital Life, University of Navarra

The media landscape in Spain is characterised by popular broadcasters, a newspaper sector which declines in print but leads online, with El País and El Mundo in first and second place, and some of the most diverse and competitive digital-born news brands in Europe. Meanwhile the sovereignty crisis in Catalonia has put journalism to the test.

Extensive coverage of the referendum in Catalonia and the response from the State — including police deployment, direct instructions to the Catalan government, judicial action, and a snap regional election — went on for months. Around this very divisive issue, the four Madrid-based newspapers and the two main titles in Catalonia joined the main Spanish political parties in defending the legal status quo. The leading and most moderate paper in Catalonia, La Vanguardia (50% total offline/online reach in this territory) called for dialogue in face of a ‘devastating’ situation. A broader spectrum of views was reflected by commercial TV and radio, where political talk shows dominated airtime, and by digital-native sites in Madrid and Barcelona.

Spanish public broadcaster RTVE is regularly criticised for pro-governmental bias in its news coverage and a lack of balance in its use of sources and commentators; a law in September established open and public competition and the need for a two-thirds (rather than simple) majority in Parliament for appointing its governing board and presidency, but the subsequent process has been severely delayed. The Catalan Broadcasting Corporation CCMA is also questioned for focusing so much on the pro-independence process, despite the high audience ratings of TV3 and Catalunya Ràdio, fully in Catalan language.

The Spanish government has recently set up a working group of the national parliament to deal with the issue of ‘fake news’. Politicians, publishers, and representatives from online search and social media platforms have been invited to contribute, but as elsewhere there are concerns that government action could threaten press freedom.1

In the last ten years, the audience for print newspapers in Spain has almost halved, with magazines losing a third of their reach, according to the Estudio General de Medios (EGM) survey. There was a slight decline in TV, but 85% of over 14s still watch it daily, and six in ten users listened to radio of any kind. A record 75% went online every day in 2017, up from 26% a decade before.2 The circulation crisis affecting print dailies in Spain has led to the closure of 26 newspaper presses in twelve years. El País has now outsourced its own printing with editor-in-chief Antonio Caño saying: ‘It is necessary to allocate efforts and resources to where readers and the future really are — in the new technological platforms.’3

The increase in digital advertising has not compensated for the decline in traditional ads for the main media houses in Spain, according to InfoAdex.4 Broadcast television groups Atresmedia and Mediaset account for 85% of the advertising expenditure, even if they only attract half the audience. The main telecom operators promote bundled offers with a landline, mobile, broadband, and interactive television with VOD such as Netflix and HBO. In response, legacy broadcasters, including the three largest free-to-air channel groups –Mediaset, Atresmedia, and RTVE– and the regional PSBs, are working on a common on-demand video distribution platform over digital terrestrial television.5

Spain has one of the most diverse home-grown, digital-born sectors in Europe, with the two most successful El Confidencial (19%) and (18%) now third and fourth respectively in weekly reach. Both are independent and journalistically motivated organisations; the latter reached 30,000 voluntary paid members in April 2018, whereas the former specialises in premium ad format innovation. Alternative and sometimes partisan sites such as OKDiario (12%), established in September 2015 by a high-profile investigative journalist and aimed at ‘non-conformists’ seeking exclusives, eye-catching headlines, and hard-line editorials, are more successful than elsewhere.

Encarna Samitier became the only current female editor-in-chief of a national general-interest newspaper, as new owners Henneo appointed her to lead 20 minutos, a print freesheet in some cities and a digital-only brand elsewhere; it is the second-largest source of online news for adults under 45, reaching 23% weekly, with El País at 28% in this age band. Henneo also bought digital-born and refocused it on business news, and Axel Springer launched Business Insider Spain. BuzzFeed Spain (8% weekly reach among under 35s) continues not to cover general news; it focuses on popular culture, evergreen viral posts, and content with a feminist perspective on its vertical BuzzFeed LOLA.

The two main remaining newsweeklies in Spain, Interviú and Tiempo, known for their investigative journalism among other features, closed down in January 2018. They belonged to Grupo Zeta, publisher of Barcelona-based El Periódico, which itself is restructuring severely.

Top Brands

Changing Media

Social media use for news has levelled off after several years of continuous growth. Meanwhile two thirds now access the news on smartphone (64%) up 5 percentage points on 2017, with Android the majority platform. Almost a quarter (23%) now also use smart/connected TVs to access news — level with the declining tablet.


Commercial broadcast brands that prioritise news are the most trusted in Spain. The two most successful digital-native sites ( and El Confidencial) also do well, while most print and radio outlets are valued by their users but penalised by those with opposing views. Public service broadcaster TVE and entertainment-focused Telecinco are among the lowest-scoring.