Murky media market
In the media business in North Macedonia, the audience is still the main currency, as it determines how much advertisers are willing to buy and pay. But data on how much televisions, radios, newspapers and portals are watched, listened to, read and visited are either incomplete or unreliable. In most cases, they are both.
Public opinion surveys show that televisions still dominate the media market, although their primacy is slowly being lost, primarily to news portals. However, only five out of the 43 television stations in the country actually know their numbers.
Audience data is available only for the five terrestrial televisions that broadcast programs at a national level – Sitel, Kanal 5, Alsat-M, Alfa and Telma. There is no methodologically solid data for the rest, nor will it be available in the foreseeable future. This also concerns the public broadcaster Macedonian radio and television, which is excluded from the ratings.
Viewing figures for the five televisions are measured by Nielsen, a renowned rating agency chosen by the Joint Committee of the Industry, a body composed of representatives of the media, advertisers and marketing agencies. In 2015, the committee awarded Nielsen with a 9 year contract to measure TV ratings. The price for its services is covered by the five televisions it monitors. No official reason was given why the other 38 television stations opted out of being part of the research. Most likely it is because of the price.
Nielsen measures viewership through 700 so-called people meters installed in households across the country, distributed according to a certain methodology that guarantees representativeness on several grounds.
But such data is not obtained for free. Insiders say that those televisions whose ratings are measured pay half of the amount in equal parts, while the rest is paid according to the rating. In other words, the most-watched televisions pay the most.
The data gap for all broadcasters has been filled until now by quarterly telephone surveys commissioned by the Audio and Audiovisual Media Services Agency, AVMU. However, their methodology is not the most suitable for the media market. They are not precise and detailed in profiling the audience and in measuring viewership of terms and contents. Such data is not relevant for large advertisers, so they generally choose to advertise only in media monitored by reputable agencies. The consequence of this is an artificial advantage for the five biggest commercial televisions, depriving the 38 other televisions from access to large parts of the advertisement market.
As of 2023, the data from AVMU will no longer be available.In the former Audio and Audiovisual Media Law, the Media Agency was mandated to carry out audience measurements. However, recent amendments to align with European regulations have eliminated this obligation for the agency. Consequently, it will no longer be engaged in such measurements.
This entails a de facto monopoly to interpret audience preferences, to the five biggest commercial broadcasters covered by Nielsen.
Newspapers are obliged to publish only how many copies they print. The problem is that they have no obligation to reveal the number of copies sold or read, which is a far more accurate indicator of the size of their real audience.
Unofficially, publishers say they have an economically bearable remittance of 25 per cent per day, which means that they must sell three-quarters of what is printed. However, there is no independent body that monitors this.
Nonetheless, a decline in audience figures is evident. At the end of the 1990s the print media experienced a renaissance. Certain newspapers printed more than 100,000 copies per day. Today the most-circulated newspaper officially claims to print only 7,000 to 10,000 copies.
How to measure the Internet?
North Macedonia is not an exception to the global reduction in print readership. With many newspapers moving online, the problem becomes quantifying the online audience, for which there is no unified monitoring system.
There are companies that create web analytics on a market basis, analyze web traffic or process data from social networks, but portals operating on the edge of economic viability rarely pay for analytics. The market in this part of the media sphere operates according to murky market parameters. Business insiders say that when marketing agencies are working on a campaign for a client, they go directly to the portals they consider most suitable for marketing the product or service, and then ask them for Google Analytics data.
The lack of reliable data makes the situation hazy; it is difficult to say what is happening and by what parameters it is decided. Together with the fact that the advertising cake is constantly shrinking, this opens wide the door through which various political and business influences can enter, turning the media scene into a clientelistic system in which professional and responsible journalism disappears.