Dublin City University
Irish titles have increased their digital reach with revenue stabilising, while increasing numbers are consuming news on mobile phones and via closed messenger apps.
The Irish digital media market appears to be going through a phase of consolidation, with few major developments over the past 12 months. In terms of yearly comparisons, it is worth noting that data collection for the previous report occurred during the 2016 general election campaign and we may assume that the election increased interest in, and exposure to, news. Consequently, a period of consolidation with relatively small changes is to be expected.
The slow decline of TV and newspaper consumption continues, particularly among groups aged between 35 and 45. Online news consumption remains flat while mobile is down a little from last year. There is little change regarding the devices people use to access news; as in previous years, there is a slight decrease in the popularity of computers.
The major consumption shift is in the use of private messenger apps, such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, which are used more prevalently in Ireland than in many other countries. Other platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, have lost some traction for news consumption since 2015. The popularity of WhatsApp in particular has grown significantly over each of the past three years. In terms of general use, rather than specifically for news, some 40% now use WhatsApp (compared with 24% in 2015), 37% use Facebook Messenger, 19% use Viber, and 15% use Snapchat.
In recent years, the Irish broadcasting market has undergone a number of changes. UTV was taken over twice in a ten-month period: first by ITV in October 2015 and then by Liberty Global in July 2016. In September, UTV’s radio holdings were acquired by News UK. The local radio station TXFM (formerly Phantom), in which Communicorp had a stake, closed in October 2016. No other local or regional radio stations closed and no new stations were launched.
There were no closures in the newspaper sector. However, comparing the last six months of 2016 with the same period a year earlier, all major news titles suffered a decline in circulation. The two major broadsheets, the Irish Times and the Irish Independent, were both down 10%.1 In September 2016, Independent News and Media announced their intention to acquire the regional newspaper group Celtic Media. However, the acquisition remains under review.
Although overall print sales declined by around 6%, there is strong growth for digital editions. The Irish Times Digital Edition, a digital replica of the daily newspaper, doubled its readership between the first half of 2015 and the first half of 2016. Maintaining the metered paywall model, new subscription packages were introduced in February 2015. Independent News and Media increased their digital revenue by around 20%, which goes some way to offset the continued decline in print advertising.
Within the digital-only sector, Maximum Media, owners of Her.ie and Joe.ie, are expanding into the UK market while moving away from their original online magazine formats in favour of video and podcast content. More broadly, the central debates about digital media in Ireland concern the circulation of fake news, particularly in relation to the UK’s European Union referendum and the US presidential election.
Fake news and misinformation received considerable attention by all major newspaper titles, with over 100 stories addressing the issue between October 2016 and March 2017. In addition, a very small right-wing site, theliberal.ie, was accused of manufacturing news on race riots, among other controversies, and is currently the subject of legal action.2
Another major issue concerns the role of the Irish data protection commissioner in protecting the privacy of European citizens. The court case Data Protection Commissioner v. Facebook Ireland Limited & Maximilian Schrems concluded on 15 March 2017, but judgment was reserved for a later date. In these proceedings, a reference is sought to the Court of Justice of the European Union concerning the validity of allowing the transfer of personal data from the EU to the US.
Online media remain dominant and stable. The continuing slow decline of print and TV news consumption has been evident for the past three years. This decline is particularly notable in terms of TV consumption amongst under 45 age groups.
Trust in the news has declined a little and from a fairly low base over the past year. This is perhaps not surprising given the extent of debate about ‘fake news’ following the US presidential election and Brexit referendum. Notably, however, the fall is not as steep as in the UK.