Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Media War Kicks Off

With the battle over the television rights to live football matches still going strong, it's easy to imagine that it might just be a tussle between rival groups for this lucrative market. However, I suspect that it is much more than that, and we are seeing only the first skirmish in a larger war. The main companies confronting each other in the dispute over rights are Grupo PRISA which owns El País and Digital +, and Mediapro which is the owner of La Sexta television channel. Mediapro has media ambitions that go beyond television and is the group behind the launch of a new daily newspaper, Público, that I posted on some months ago. This is where things get interesting, because Público is going to aim for a left of centre readership that currently only has El País available in the national newspaper market. I have seen suggestions that the new paper could be out on the streets as early as next week.

When Jesus de Polanco, the former owner of Grupo PRISA, died not long ago, El País filled its pages with tributes about how Polanco had always respected the independence of the paper. Now obviously this sort of judgement depends very much on how you choose to define the word "independent", the paper formed a key part of the influence that Polanco wielded. Since his son took over the reins there have been a couple of revealing instances of how the independence of a newspaper is compromised by the interests of its owners. First of all came an editorial completely dedicated to complaining about PRISA not getting the access to the Latin American media market that companies from there were getting in Spain. Later came another editorial supposedly about the beginning of the football season, but which was converted into the opening shots of the war against Mediapro and its alleged piracy of football matches.

However, the most revealing incidence was in a lengthy interview with Prime Minister Zapatero published at the beginning of September. The interviewer decided to press Zapatero on the issue of the football "war" and suggested to him that there was a conflict of interest because of his friendship with some of the owners of Mediapro. Coming from another paper this might have been a valid point to make, but given that PRISA have never considered their close relationship to political leaders as provoking any kind of conflict it was curious to say the least. As well as being a sign of nervousness that the PSOE may no longer be depending almost entirely on PRISA for its media support. Zapatero politely brushed the question aside when he could have made the point more bluntly.

Autumn is typically a time when newspapers in Spain attempt to boost readership after the summer break with all sorts of promotions, I occasionally wonder whether I should take a shopping trolley with me when I go out for my Sunday paper. When Público finally emerges I predict that there will be a surge of gifts and offers from rival papers in an attempt to strangle the new contender at birth. El País in particular will be desperate to defend its position as the biggest selling daily paper in Spain. The war has only just begun.

Updated Friday 21st: It's been announced today that Público's first edition will be out next Wednesday 26th September


Daniel said...

Interesting stuff - I had no idea about Público. El País will be very difficult to displace, but a bit of competition will hopefully be good for it.

Its self-interest editorials (the campaign to get La Cuatro into Canal+'s old transmission slot was hardly subtle) are disgraceful, and even the TV pages show a heavy bias to cross-promoting Grupo Prisa channels, but the style of the writing - try comparing a La Vanguardia news report with one from El País - and a lot of the analysis are exceptionally good. And the foreign correspondents do some brilliant work.

To take on El País, Mediapro will have to throw a lot of money at Público over a long time; it'd probably be better off positioning itself as a nationwide version of El Periódico - populist, easy-to read, centre left, critical, fairly clear editorial line.

It could get quite nasty out there.

Graeme said...

According to an acknowledged industry expert - the man I buy my paper from every day - Público is supposed to come out next week. I agree that El País has clear advantages, especially on foreign coverage, that will be hard for a new paper to match. What will be as interesting as the paper itself will be its presence on Internet, and I believe it will have some excellent columnists.

Rab said...

Graeme, on your comment about newsapapers promotions, Ferreres had a cartoon in yesterday's El Periódico

With the freebies and the hyper-competitive market, I think Público has a very tough job ahead, but ZP and his allies are tired of the editorial line of El País and want a loyal ally in the press, something they don't have at the moment.

It will be interesting to see what editorial line the new paper takes on the structure of Spain and the nations®ions. MediaPro is staffed by a few former TV3 professionals and a lot of people on the centre-left are not happy with El País jacobinist, unitarist view of Spain.
But will a more pro-federalist newspaper shift sales in Spain? I have my doubts.

Rab said...

I meant "nations & regions".

MediaPro team:

Amy said...

Graeme, I have really been enjoying your blog. From my own blog I linked to this post in particular because I found it so interesting and so appropriate with the recent media mess.

Graeme said...

Thanks Amy, I've reciprocated with a link to your blog in what is now, happily, a growing list of blogs written in English by people who live in Spain.