The Czech media market has experienced further ownership concentration with control shifting towards domestic tycoons, who have been also expanding abroad. Czech digital platforms are stepping up original content production, while concerns about the political independence of public service media are growing.
Under favourable economic conditions (GDP +3.0%), the Czech media market has continued to grow in 2018, with advertising expenditures rising by 10%. As in 2017, online adverts recorded the biggest annual growth (23%), attracting for the first time more expenditure than print and radio combined, and amounting to 25% of the advertising market altogether. Nevertheless, the dominant position of TV is still far from being challenged (46%).1
There has been a further drop in the circulation of daily press, as publishers sold on average 7% fewer copies than last year, an indication that the relative slowdown of the decline between 2016 and 2017 (-5.5%) was only a temporary one.2 The decline was driven particularly by print subscriptions (-11%), and was observed across all individual titles, with the exception of the financial daily Hospodářské noviny. The market shares of the five leading publishers – with the first three controlling 85% of the daily press market – remained virtually unchanged. Nevertheless, a further concentration of the print market took place following the withdrawal of Bauer Media, which was purchased by Mafra, a publishing house once controlled by the Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš.3 Apart from Mafra becoming the number one publisher, this move has marked the near-completion of the process of print media takeover by domestic businessmen – a notable change from several years ago when foreign investors dominated the market.
A shift in favour of domestic ownership occurred within the radio market, too, when the French company Lagardère sold its assets – the nationwide commercial stations Frekvence 1 and Evropa 2, and several other local stations – to Czech Media Invest, controlled by one of the richest Czech businessmen Daniel Křetínský. The transaction involved Lagardère’s radio stations in other Central and Eastern European countries, as well as its many French magazines, including the popular brand Elle. Křetínský’s expansion in the French market continued with the purchase of the news weekly Marianne and a minority stake in the legacy newspaper Le Monde, which sparked concerns about the impact on editorial autonomy among French journalists. Together with the acquisition of leading telecom operators in Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Montenegro by the Czech investment group PPF, owned by another billionaire Petr Kellner, these investments symbolise rising power as well as appetite of the Czech business tycoons to extend their media empires beyond national borders.
Amid the overall pessimism in the print market, there was a sign of hope in the launching of a new liberal daily at the end of 2018. Deník N was established following a crowdsourcing campaign, and benefited from close cooperation with its Slovak counterpart Denník N. Having started as an online daily, Deník N added a print version from the beginning of 2019, emboldened by an increasing subscriber base.
The fast-growing online TV market has been further expanded with the emergence of Mall.tv, established by the second biggest Czech internet retailer Mall.cz. Offering original content – films, series, and talk shows – the Czech retailer clearly takes inspiration from Amazon. It is attempting to compete with the leading Czech online portal Seznam.cz which has been involved in TV content production for several years already with its online service Stream.cz and, since last year, terrestrial SeznamTV. The growing interest of Czech audiences in new forms of online consumption is also seen in the rising popularity of podcasts, spearheaded by independent producers but also involving some established brands such as Czech Radio and Forbes.
The increasing politicisation and more explicit partisanship of the Czech news media have been reflected in the intensification of struggles for political independence of the public service broadcasters. These have been targets of regular criticism and attacks by the governing party as well as by the President.4 Despite the rising political hostility, public service broadcasting as an institution can still rely on substantial support from the Czech public. This was seen several times during 2018 when people took to the streets to protest against attempts to curb the independence of Czech Television and Czech Radio. Both broadcasters also – yet again – top the list of news brands in their perceived trust by Czech audiences.
Smartphones have continued to rise as the second most popular device for accessing news, while the use of tablets has further stagnated. However, the consumption of news on social media has declined compared to 2018, particularly on Facebook (-7%).
The tendency towards declining trust in news, recorded in previous years, has been stopped and slightly reversed, even if the overall trust figures are still comparatively low. Public broadcasters remain most trusted by the public while tabloids and partisan brands are trusted least.
- www.spir.cz/28-6-miliard-korun-investovali-zadavatele-do-internetove-reklamy-v-roce-2018-vice-nez-polovina ↩
- www.mediaguru.cz/clanky/2019/02/prodej-deniku-loni-ovlivnil-i-problem-s-predplatnym ↩
- www.reuters.com/article/czech-media/czech-pms-former-firm-buys-bauer-media-groups-local-publisher-idUSL8N1WP4AX ↩
- www.tol.org/client/article/27653-the-battle-for-czech-public-media.html ↩