It could be said that the Greek media landscape is dominated by television in general and private television in particular. From their very beginning, private TV channels dominated the Hellenic television universe, which in 2016 consisted of 120 terrestrial TV channels, most of them broadcast on a regional and local level, while 8 channels are broadcast on a national level. On the other hand, the history of Greek broadcasting has been often identified with the Hellenic Radio and Television (ERT). Nevertheless, the emergence of private TV stations has been disastrous for the public broadcaster. ERT has sharply declined in terms of audience ratings and advertising revenues. In effect, ERT’s three channels witnessed a steady erosion of market share since private television channels were launched in late 1989. Ιn 2016, approximately 96 per cent of ERT’s funds derive from the license fee and the rest from advertising (Naftemporiki, 2016).
On Tuesday 11 June 2013, on an unprecedented decision, the then Conservative-led government decided to close down the public broadcaster overnight. The radio stations of the Greek public broadcaster went silent and its TV screen signal went ‘black’. The government also announced that it aimed to restructure the public corporation and bring it “on the right track.” However, the closing down of the ERT by the government provoked an angry reaction among oppositional parties and trade unions. The opposition, led by the SYRIZA party, claimed that the government had fired ERT’s 2,500 employees in order to prove to Greece’s international lenders that it was serious about cutting the country’s bloated public sector.
A few months later, ERT was replaced by a new public broadcaster, NERIT (New Hellenic Radio Internet and Television). As the ERT’s closing was a permanent bone of contention, those assigned with the management of NERIT could not do much. The government declared that (in theory at least) the broadcaster would be independent in line with Western counterparts. However, the government, in practice, regarded it as its own political mouthpiece.
On 11 July 2015, the Syrizaled coalition government re-opened ERT as promised in its election campaign priorities. The government re-employed almost all the redundant staff. In 2016, ERT employs 2,316 staff (of which 565 journalists, according to the ERT’s Trade Union - Pospert).
After a year of ERT’s new full operation, the public broadcaster’s audience ratings remain low (approximately 11 percent of the television market share for the three channels). Several months after returning to the airwaves, ERT issued an open call for new programming. Needless to say, all key radio and television appointees were once again politically sympathetic of or affiliated to the Syriza-led coalition government.
Nevertheless, the main mission of the government was to ‘bring order and legitimization’ for the first time since the entry of the private interests in the Greek airwaves. The new legislation of 2015 and 2016 foresaw how licenses would be issued, how long they would be valid for, and under what circumstances they could be revoked, among other conditions. New licenses would be valid for ten years. The cost of procuring a license and the maximum number of employees that could be hired by each channel were also established. Broadcasters of national reach and general content should have a personnel of at least of 400 employees, and national thematic content channels must have at least 200 employees. National television channels of non-informative content can employ up to 50 and regional ones up to 20 people.
The opposition parties attacked the government over the bill, arguing that it gave too much power to the minister responsible for media in deciding on the license bids (currently Nikos Pappas, a close aide to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras). With most of Greece’s private media already in considerable debt and with advertising revenues shrinking, the television industry was afraid that investors would steer clear of the sector.
But the government and the major opposition parties could not agree on the board members of the country’s regulatory body, the Greek National Council for Radio and Television (NCRTV). The NCRTV is an independent supervisory and regulatory authority of the radio and television market whose function and duties are foreseen in the Constitution. The Syriza–Independent Greeks coalition was hoping to appoint a new NCRTV board, as the body is due to oversee the launch of a tender process for new broadcasting licenses. However, New Democracy and other opposition parties rejected the candidates put forward by the coalition government.
In order to make its decision more ‘scientific,’ the government ordered a study on the number of licenses from the European University Institute of Florence. Τhe study concluded that Greece could issue up to four television licences for private television channels broadcasting nationwide. More particularly, the study pointed out that—since each multiplex can carry at most two HD channels—the total number of private channels broadcasting nationally in Greece could be up to four. Eventually, the coalition government’s controversial television licensing amendment was approved in Parliament on 11 June 2016.
During the debate that preceded the vote, the government and the opposition parties accused each other, with PM Tsipras claiming that the legislative amendment aims to rid the media sector of corruption and vested interests, while the opposition parties countering that the government’s aim was to control the media. The government proceeded with the auctioning of the 4 national licenses for TV . After the auction the 4 licences were awarded to Skai TV Antenna TV and two newcomers, the businessmen and owners of two very popular Greek soccer teams, Vangelis Marinakis (owner of Olympiacos F.C.) and Ivan Savidis (owner of PAOK F.C.) at the price of 246 million euro. The remaining TV stations should cease broadcasting with whatever this might imply for the media people.
Finally, the Hellenic Council of State High Court ruled on 26 October 2016 that the law through which the TV licensing tender and procedure took place was not in line with the constitutional provisions on licensing, on the basis that the allocation of TV licenses is the sole competence of the Greek National Council for Radio and Television. The Court concluded that there was no room to correct the law, and so it would be scrapped in its entirety as well as the auctions should be nulled. Finally, the government and the opposition reached an agreement on the new members of the NCRTV after the government agreed to the main opposition’s proposed candidates for the posts of the council’s chairman and deputy chairman. This development was considered as an important step to put an end to a lingering situation that poisoned the political system and the media. The new NCRTV members will have a major responsibility and duty to legislate mutually accepted democratic rules so that the political system and society cease to constantly dispute the state of the media.
Year 2016 was also when the financial problem of Mega channel became too apparent. Mega was the first private channel that entered the airwaves in November 1989, a venture of the most powerful newspaper publishers in Greece, and most importantly the market leader of the Hellenic television universe in the last 25 years. Since mid-2016, however, the channel has been under a situation of bankruptcy. The channel’s bank loans are estimated at € 116 million. In December 2015, there was hope that the banks would agree to extend their return to 2021. But Mega’s shareholders had to increase the company’s capital. This never happened. When this report was written, discussions between Mega’s shareholders, new investors and the banks to find a solution and re-operate the station were still taking place. Mega’s personnel (500 people) have actually remained unpaid for months. To some observers this is reminiscent of the case of Alter TV channel, whose owner was charged with tax evasion and imprisoned, and 700 staff suddenly lost their jobs. To some others, these are the consequences of the financial crisis which has heavily hit the media landscape too. But two recent developments confirm the Greek media paradox: In May, Greek-Russian businessman Mr Ivan Savvidis bought a 19.63 percent stake in Mega channel, for a reported 5 million euros. That was done since Mr. Savvidis, the owner of PAOK soccer club, acquired the stake that belonged to the Pegasus media group owned by Fotis Bobolas. Moreover, in June shipowner and owner of another popular Greek soccer team, Olympiacos, Mr. Evangelos Marinakis through the acquisition of DOL media group has become the second biggest shareholder in Mega Channel, as DOL controls 22.11 percent in the troubled TV station.
Near the end of 2017, the NCRTV auctioned 7 PanHellenic TV licenses and at the beginning of 2018 there were 6 candidates. There was no interest for one license. Thus, every licensee will pay 35 million euros (starting price) for 10 years. Mega channel’s shareholders didn’t participated at the auction and the station should shut next months. Mr. Marinakis is not in the TV business, while Mr.t Savvidis participates in the auction for one license for “E” TV. Former owner of E TV, Mr. Vrionis is one of the candidates for a TV license. At the moment of writing, Mega channel’s management announced that the YV station will choose operations, and within a few hours it was announced that it will continue (!).
Finally, in 2016, according to Nielsen, Greek viewers watched television for 252 minutes per day. In the period between September 2015 and August 2016, ERT’s channels attracted 8.3 percent of the TV viewership, Antenna TV attracted 15.7 percent, Alpha TV 14.5 percent, followed by Star (10.5 percent), SKAI TV (9.8 percent) and Epsilon (6.9 percent) (Nielsen, 2016).
Digea - Digital Services Provider S.A- is the company formed by the privately-owned nationwide television stations Alpha, Alter, Antenna, Makedonia TV, Mega, Skai and Star. Its core services involve networking, multiplexing and broadcasting for nationwide as well as privately-owned regional television stations in Greece. On February 7, 2014, Digea was granted exclusive spectrum usage rights for all nationwide and regional broadcasts, meaning that it undertook the digital switchover project as a whole and it is responsible for digital terrestrial broadcasting of all Greece’s free privately-owned television stations.
Pay TV, transmitted principally through satellite, has presented a notable development in the last years. This was due to the aggressive marketing approach by the telecommunication companies which also own the pay TV operators in Greece. Forthnet, telecoms owns Nova, and OTE owns OTE TV. Both offer attractive packages to the consumers through their triple-play deals. Initially, Netmed/Multichoise Hellas founded the Novabouquet channels, which transmit via satellite and feature specific content programmes (such as movies, sport, documentaries etc.). Nova platform was launched in December 1999. On April 14, 2008, the Greek telecommunications company Forthnet acquired Netmed/Multichoise Hellas. In 2010, Nova attracted 363,679 subscribers. By June 2015, Nova attracted 509,088 subscribers, and by June 2016 it had 460,000 (-9.6 percent). Since summer 2016, Forthnet operates under the Nova brand.
In 2009, Deutsche Telekom-owned Greek telecoms operator OTE launched an IPTV service called Conn-x-TV. It was initially available in Athens, Thessaloniki, Patra, Larisa & Iraklion, and gradually in most of Greece. In October 2011, Conn-x TV was re-branded as OTE TV. At the same time, OTE launched the long-anticipated satellite service known as OTE TV via Satellite. Both services operate under the OTE TV brand, and on November 14, 2016, the whole service was rebranded to Cosmote TV. In March 2012, OTE TV attracted 63,497 subscribers. By the end of November 2013, OTE TV reached 230,000 subscribers and in June 2015, it attracted 377,548 subscribers, while in August 2016 the platform attracted 462,000 subscribers (21.6 percent rise). In fact, OTE TV platform surpassed the number of Nova subscribers for the first time.
Both competitors offer their subscribers On Demand Services, HD channels, and on-the-go TV services. The decision of the government to impose a new tax on pay TV caused new problems. here is actually a double tax: 5 percent on every Internet connection and 10 percent on every pay TV subscription. Media analysts wonder whether this decision will impede growth in the nascent market or -even worse- will lead to market distortions in the provision of double- and triple-play services, since operators will charge higher fees for telephony and lower ones for Internet and pay TV in order to reduce their tax bill for the latter. Needless to say, the continuing financial crisis will further decrease the disposable income of Greek households, especially for pay TV services.
Cable television has never developed as an important distribution system, if there is any chance of development it is through IPTV and the development of the Internet. Vodafone TV transmits its bouquet via IPTV as well as Cosmote TV and Nova for the on-demand services.