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The rise, fall and future of private televisions in Greece

27 November 2012 / 22:11:28  GRReporter
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Private televisions in Greece have existed since 1989. From that time on, they had accounted for 55 to 60% of advertising costs in the media in general. By 2007, the percentage of advertisements had been rising every year and in that particular year, the total gross revenue of private televisions from advertisements amounted 630 million euro.

In the first quarter of 2008, the global economic crisis that had broken out did not yet have consequences in Greece. However, the first signs appeared from September that year onwards and television advertisements began to decline.

Four years later, the decline has reached 60% compared to 2007 and the forecasts are that advertising revenues will decline by a further 240 million euro by the end of 2012 and will reach 1998 levels. The decline was gradual and it reached 20% between October 2008 and September 2009, similar to what was happening in other European countries too. However, since May 2010, when Greece signed the first bailout agreement, GDP has declined by almost 20% and the cost of advertising followed it.

Over the past 25 years, many media have been established in Greece that dynamically competed with each other. At the same time, businessmen who had no connection with the press and media entered the industry. The business activities of a large number of them were construction of large sites, shipping, energy and government projects. In the majority of cases, the owners of the media and the political system were in corrupt relationships in which one party supported the other with disastrous consequences for the country.

Three private televisions with national coverage were created between 1989 and 1993: Mega, Ant1 and Star. Alpha TV and Alter appeared a little later, and SKAI in 2006. The owners of all of them were Greeks and the only TV that was in the hands of foreign interests for a while was Alpha as the RTL media group had purchased its main stake in 2008. In early 2012, however, the German investors withdrew and in November 2011, Alter TV interrupted its broadcasts. Today, its owners are trying to enforce bankruptcy through a law that would relieve them of the obligation to pay the amounts due to employees and lenders.

Since the outbreak of the crisis, advertising costs have been steadily decreasing. This has led to the closure of dozens of newspapers and magazines. Among them were lifestyle editions that had a huge circulation in the years of plentiful television advertisements. The closure of the publishing houses Imako and Limberis is indicative of the state of the industry. According to experts, the deepening of the crisis will further cut the budget of advertisers and this is expected to result in the suppression of more media. And although several new editions have appeared - "The editors’ newspaper," "6 days", "Para politics", "Democracy" and others, the forecasts are that they probably will not be able to survive although they rely on new methods of financing and are completely independent of bank loans.

But as the crisis deepens the rate of viewing is growing. According to research carried out in the period 2009 – 2010, TV viewing increased by 8% mainly due to the increase in the number of viewers in the age group of over 45 years. The increase among young people is minimal. The moment the Internet started transmitting images to tablets and smartphones, the youth who are totally addicted to new technologies have abandoned television and turned to them.

Television channels ended up with serious financial problems caused by the drop in advertisements, their high operating costs and high obligations in repayment of bank loans. So, their first action was to cut the cost of wages by around 10 to 15%.

The reductions for employees who received less than 1,400 euro were not so serious, but the cuts of higher wages reached 40 to 50%. According to some estimates, around 3,000 people worked in the five major private television companies before the crisis. After the crisis, about 400 people were fired and together with the 650 employees of Alter TV, their number reached over 1,000. This means that from 2008 to today, the number of employees has decreased by one-third.

To date, however, there is no case of a merger between televisions. The only exception was their collaboration in establishing the Digea company that implemented the transition from analogue to digital TV and this was only at a technical level.

Contrary to the expectations of many of them, the other televisions did not gain more commercials after the closure of Alter TV. It seems that when the number of television channels drops the cost of advertising falls too. Regarding the prices of advertising, experts believe that if the number of advertisements continues to decline, television stations will further reduce their prices.

The main conclusion is that the course of the television market will follow the course of the Greek economy. If it stabilizes, television channels will again be able to find a balance albeit on a smaller and more realistic scale, of course. Otherwise, the situation of television channels will deteriorate and they will be faced with two choices: either to merge or be closed.

To avoid the latter option, Greek private televisions are already preparing for the former, and the biggest stake in this endeavour is the terms of the merger. In all cases, however, even if they are not the most favourable  for a particular media, it will not be able to allow itself the pleasure of negotiating them. So, mergers will be inevitable unless the situation deteriorates so much that a plan B is required.

Tags: MediaAdvertising marketPrivate televisionsCrisis
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