Television is the most preferred medium in Georgia and up to 72 percent of Georgians said they get news primarily via television in the NDI 2017 poll. According to GNCC, there were 98 active TV channels in 2017, including 21 nationally reaching broadcasters. Tbilisi-based stations Rustavi 2 and Imedi are leaders in terms of programmatic diversity and audience share. Imedi TV had 28.08 percent of audience share in 2017 and the share of Rustavi 2 was 26.76 percent, followed by Imedi’s affiliate GDS (5.61 percent), and Rustavi 2’s Comedy Channel (3.86 percent), according to TV MR Ge website. Kavkasia TV, Iberia TV, and Pirveli TV compete with the leaders for audiences and revenues.
GPB’s Channel 1 is fifth with an audience share of 3.63 percent. It is a publicly-funded entity, and required by law to “provide accurate and up-to-date information that is free from political and commercial bias” and “to address the needs and interests of the larger Georgian society through diversity of programs and viewpoints” (Article15, Law on Broadcasting). GPB and Ajara TV are public broadcasters funded by public funds. GBP has been continuously yielding criticism for having grown “more friendly with the authorities” (Freedom House, Freedom of World Report, 2009) and “distinctly pro-government” (IREX/MSI 2017). Pre-election news monitoring by the Georgian Charter of Journalism Ethics (2017) showed that Channel I favored candidates from the ruling party. The public expressed discontent over the Parliament of Georgia’s introduction of the controversial amendments to the Laws on Broadcasting, at the initiative of the GPB’s management, which allows public broadcasters to sell advertising and forgo strict public procurement rules for equipment and content purchases.
Regional stations have limited programming, and have less viewers than national channels at their own locales. Trialeti TV, Gurjaani TV, Mega TV, Borjomi TV, Guria TV, Metskhre Talga, Rioni TV, Imervizia TV, Odishi TV, Tanamgzavri TV are leaders on the regional market.
The Georgian Orthodox Church also operates a satellite-based TV station called Unanimity.
The TV sector is highly politicised and polarised, and has recently witnessed a wave of ownership changes and takeover attempts, often, politically motivated. Rustavi 2, which has ties to the oppositional United National Movement (Freedom House, 2016), declared its editorial support for Georgia’ Euro-Atlantic integration and Eurocentric political parties. Imedi TV, which has put forward no such manifesto, is seen as aligned with the Government. Recently, Imedi TV formed a holding company with two major TV companies, Maestro and GDS, the latter owned by the son of Bidzina Ivanishvili, the founder of the ruling Georgian Dream and former Prime Minister. This move reinforced perceptions that Imedi TV is aligned with the ruling elite.
The ownership of the biggest TV station, Rustavi 2, is contested. Rustavi 2 was sued by one of its former owners, Kibar Khalvashi, who claimed his shares were illegally seized while the UNM was in power in 2015. After losing the case in Georgia’s lower courts, and after the March 2, 2017 decision by the Supreme Court of Georgia to uphold a lower court's’ decision to transfer ownership rights to Mr. Khalvashi, Rustavi 2 took the case to the European Court of Human Rights, which has suspended the enforcement of the Georgian Supreme Court ruling for an indefinite period, until it’s issuing of a verdict.
A nationwide digital switchover occurred in 2015. Georgia now operates seven multiplex platforms with national coverage and additional 21 regional low-power multiplexes. The government has purchased set top boxes, devices to transform analogue signal to digital, for free of charge distribution to some 220,000 vulnerable households. Upon the completion of the switchover, the Georgian National Communications Commission has dropped the licensing requirement for TV stations as a result.
Ethnic minorities have access to two Armenian-language TV stations, Parvana in Ninotsminda and ATV12 in Akhaltsikhe. TOK TV, a Russian-language broadcaster, started in 2017. GPB Channel 2 broadcasts news in Azerbaijani and Armenian languages. In the Kvemo Kartli, Marneuli TV and Bolneli TV have been re-broadcasting GPB’s Azerbaijani language news.
Independent studios produce feature and documentary films, series and shows for TV stations. FormulaCreative (films and TV series), Studio Re (political and topical talk-shows), Studio Monitori (investigative documentaries), SakDocFilm (documentaries), ArteFact Production (documentary and experimental film production) produce high quality content.
Advertising income in the TV sector was 73.98m Georgian lari (about US$30m) in 2017, according to the GNCC’s analysis of advertising revenues in the TV sector. While the revenues have grown over the past five years by 16.7 percent from 63.35 in 2012, the growth is diffused by the currency depreciation of the Georgian national currency, such that the market has effectively shrunk in US dollar terms. Up to 81 percent of the income belongs to Rustavi 2 and Imedi TV and their affiliate channels. This income comprises advertising sales, sponsoring, teleshopping and product placement services. Until recently, the advertising seller Inter Group has been selling airtime for Rustavi 2 and Imedi TV. Since the market is not big enough to sustain a plurality of TV channels, some stations’ financial injections from private owners, derived either from more profitable media assets or other business holdings.
TV is the primary source of public affairs content for the Georgian population. In every poll conducted by NDI and Caucasus Research Resource Centers (CRRC) in Georgia from 2011 to 2017, most respondents said TV was their primary source of news about politics and public affairs. However, the number of users for whom TV was the primary source of news fell by 17 percent to 72 percent from 89 percent in 2011, which should be attributed to the growth of Internet news consumption in the same period (see Digital media).
Trust in TV is diminishing. In 2017, only 19 percent of those polled by CRRC’s Caucasus Barometer study said TV journalists did a quality job informing the population, down from 34 percent of respondents polled in 2009. Also, 12 percent of respondents, up from 9 percent in 2009, said TV journalists worked poorly. The number of respondents in the middle increased from 49 percent to 60 percent between 2009 and 2017.