The media landscape is traditionally segmented by medium type, with each type being characterized by specific (technological) features. This typology is also clearly recognisable in policies which are structured along the lines of traditional media types like print, radio and television. The ongoing technological developments have enabled convergence between all sorts of media types and continue to create new features which integrate one medium with another. The different platforms are no longer a profound basis for distinction. A platform approach focuses on the various distribution channels through which information is disseminated; convergence has, however, shifted attention to the content itself, disregarding the distribution technique.
The traditional mindset of defining media in terms of medium types no longer provides an appropriate perspective on the media landscape. In response to these developments, rules and regulations have to be adapted to today’s situation. Recall from the second chapter how media concentration policies have moved from medium-specific rules to cross-media rules and seem now to be gradually disappearing. In an information society, the risk of getting lost in the ‘information overflow’ might be greater than falling prey to one dominant supplier. The individual media user may become as important as the suppliers of media content.
In other words, instead of distribution technique and supplier, content and user are becomingincreasingly important and are expected to become even more so in the near future. In response to these transitions, the Mediamonitor introduced a new model for monitoring opinion power in 2007. As there are no longer regulations on media concentration in the Netherlands, the importance of signalling concentration of power in public opinion formation has become even more important.
Focussing on news content
As early as 2005, the Scientific Council for Government Policy of the Netherlands suggested a future-proof functional approach in its report “Media policy for the digital age”. Instead of a media type-driven policy which is continually challenged and finally outdated by reality – and therefore of limited use – the Council has taken a different approach by asking the question: what is the role or function that media play now and are expected to play in our society in the coming decade? The Council suggests a new policy paradigm that takes functions as a strategic starting point, and has defined the different functions:
- News and opinion (including current affairs and debate);
- Special information;
- Culture, arts, education;
- Advertisements, persuasive information and other forms of commercial communication.
The Council provides estimates of the risk to society regarding different values. As the table below shows, diverse, independent and high-quality news and opinion content is essential for a society and must be a higher priority for policy than other content types.
Media policy, particularly policy dealing with the impact on public opinion formation, could benefit from a design based on functions, independent of media type. The ownership concentration model (as it was formulated in the Temporary Act Media Concentration) considered all newspapers, radio stations and television channels equally important for opinion formation. Not taking into account the type of content implies two limitations. On the one hand, special-interest channels such as sports, music or teleshopping, for instance, are included in the analysis. The broadcasted content of these channels is, however, not considered as important in public opinion formation as news channels such as CNN. On the other hand, media titles such as newsmagazines (or weeklies) were excluded as they are particularly important in the interpretation of events by providing background information, opinions,etc. Magazines like these ‘feed’ citizens with information and contribute to the public debate in general. In identifying key players or key aspects in the process of opinion formation with regard to concentration of opinion power, magazines cannot be ignored. The analysis of media concentration, as it was based on the Temporary Act, is argued to be not entirely sufficient to determine opinion power: relevant titles are missing and irrelevant titles are not excluded.
For these reasons, focusing on news content in particular is argued to be an important criterion in defining parameters of opinion power. In this, the Mediamonitor follows the Council’s line of argument. Research shows that news media have a strong impact on public opinion; what is not in the news is not part of the public opinion. The issues presented and discussed in news media set the thematic agenda of the audience. Of course soaps, films, music and sport sometimes also place issues on the public agenda, but those are exceptions and not part of the main function. In other words, the news media’s ability to transfer issues of importance from their own media agendas to the public agenda makes them very powerful, and thus essential in assessing concentration of power in the process of opinion formation.
To measure the share of news media consumption independent of type, a clear definition of all news titles (for example, news programmes, magazines, websites, newspapers, etc. with editorial independence) is required. Three main criteria are necessary to classify media content as news (including current affairs and opinion):
- Impact on the national population. Foreign news outlets are excluded because their main function is not to affect the Dutch agenda (and aim, though not directly, at Dutch audiences) (e.g. BBC news).
- General news. Thematic news such as sport or music is excluded.
- Updated at least once a week. To offer current information, media need to be updated frequently.
News titles are in line with the definition if they are multi-thematic (without thematic limitation), focused on a particular country and refreshed at least once a week. The news market consists, for example, of weekly magazines, internet sites with news not older than a week, current affairs programmes on TV, newspapers published weekly or more frequently, etc.
Comparing two measures of opinion power
The Mediamonitor carried out a series of studies on news. In addition to projects on news outlets (the number of media outlets and types), newsrooms (the number of newsrooms, staff, etc.), news content (topic diversity and source diversity, topicality), news consumption was also analyzed. In this last mentioned study, the focus on news content and its users was brought together. Between September and December 2007, a representative sample of 1,195 Dutch respondents of 13 years of age and older answered questions about the use of news titles from the previous day. For each media type, respondents were asked what media they used the previous day and, if any, which titles (or radio stations/television channels). Because the total Dutch news market consists of less than 90 news titles, information was gathered about reach and time spent watching, reading or listening to a particular news title.
As shown in the table, the Dutch spent about 100 minutes per day in 2007 reading, listening to or watching news content. Nearly 50 percent was devoted to television news. Together with newspapers and radio, the traditional daily news media accounted for more than 4 out of 5 minutes of news consumption. Internet news and teletext also reached a large part of the Dutch population, but the time spent on them was shorter. Weekly magazines were only used by a small group. The study is already four years old and it can, therefore, be argued that internet use has become more important since then.
The Mediamonitor’s argument for a monitoring model based on news media use is exemplified by comparing it with the market shares according to the ownership concentration model. First of all, the total reach and the total time spent using news titles of each particular supplier was calculated in order to analyse concentration of opinion power in the news market. The news market share is the percentage of the total time devoted to, out of all titles, news titles from a particular supplier.
Public broadcaster NPO reaches more than three-quarters of the Dutch population daily via television, radio and internet, but RTL also reaches more than 50 percent. Four out of seven suppliers with a reach above 10 percent were owned by a foreign company in 2007. When rankings of the suppliers are based on reach of news media and on news market shares, the order is largely comparable. Sanoma (owner of news site nu.nl) is the sixth largest supplier in terms of reach, whereas PCM (publisher of several dailies) is found in sixth position of the market share rankings. This difference can be explained, for the large part, by the fact that online media use is different than reading newspapers: online sources are consulted rather quickly while users spend more time reading a news article in a daily newspaper. The top 7 companies account for almost 90 percent of the total time spent on the news.
The current market shares have been recalculated to enable comparison of the market shares in the news market with those according to the former Dutch Temporary Act Media Concentration, The Act required takeovers to lead to a market share not exceeding 90 percent in the combined television, radio and newspaper markets. All three markets together count for 300 percent and each media type is equally important according to the Act. As the news market shares account for 100 percent in total, the market shares according to the current law are divided by three. Under the Dutch Temporary Act Media Concentration, a takeover was not allowed if a supplier reached an average of 30 percent (90/3) of the combined markets for newspapers, television and radio.
The ranking of the two measures, the average percentage on the three equivalent markets and on the news market, is reasonably comparable. In total, people spend more time watching news, opinion and current affairs programmes on television than reading newspapers. Moreover, television news is also aired at the weekend, but in the Netherlands in 2007 there were almost no newspapers available on Sundays and no free papers on Saturdays. In other words, broadcasters have a larger share of the overall news market than newspaper publishers. Another point that should be taken into account is the inclusion of all content types in the market shares of the Temporary Act. When filtering out news content, the ranking automatically changes because only a selection of suppliers’ activities are taken into account instead of all activities (of subsidiaries) in the daily newspaper, radio and television markets. In this sense, the case of Sanoma is an interesting one. As this media company predominantly operates in magazines, the Act on media concentration did not apply, but Sanoma’s ownership of news site nu.nl does give the company opinion power.
The major advantage of the news market is that the data is generated from a single source study in which usage is measured in the same way for all media types. From a practical point of view, an annual survey on news usage is a flexible methodology. All new kinds of news distribution can be easily integrated into the questionnaire, which make this measurement of news usage future proof.
Towards a new monitoring model: exposure diversity
The previously discussed comparison shows only one aspect of the different measures that can be derived from the information gained by the survey on news consumption. Although the news market share per independent supplier is considered one of the most important indicators of opinion power, these shares can also be calculated for each individual news title.
Another indicator is the number of news sources consumers consult. Even though there is an incredible amount of information available, actual exposure to a wide range of sources is not guaranteed. Source diversity (a broader concept which includes diversity of titles) is therefore not necessarily viewed as the greatest concern now and in the near future. Citizens have a certain responsibility in finding their way in the media landscape and consulting different ‘voices’. A variety of sources should, ideally, be used by individuals in gaining their daily news feeds. The study on the news market also analysed the number of titles and suppliers used per person. About five percent of the Dutch population does not use news titles; however, those surveyed used, on average, five different news titles a day, provided by three different suppliers. If consumers predominantly choose one or two main sources, a powerful position might be created for those content suppliers. Based on the situation in 2007, the conclusion can be drawn that the Dutch have been exposed to diverse news sources.
This chapter began by stating that the media are in transition. Due to digitization, new media types are being developed and media infrastructures are converging, content is becoming mobile; boundaries between the press and broadcasting are disappearing. The future media landscape in the Netherlands and abroad is difficult to determine, but even if all newspapers and all television channels disappear, news media will still influence public opinion. Sources, content and exposure diversity should also be measured for the news market. Within the framework of a functional approach, concentration of editorial offices, titles, ownership and the diversity of content can be monitored. Markets based on specialist information, arts and culture, entertainment and advertising functions can be also added.