The Internet media environment in Latvia began to undergo intensive expansion in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The first news portal, Delfi.lv, appeared in November 1999. Over the course of the next year, the TVnet.lv and Apollo.lv portals were opened, all privately owned. Initially the portals did not specialise, but the most important innovation in Latvia’s media arena was the possibility to leave anonymous comments under published articles and to engage in debate. The aforementioned portals remain leaders in terms of hits. In 2010, Delfi.lv was visited by just under 670,000 users (450,000 for Tvnet.lv and 424,000 for Apollo.lv). By contrast, Latvia’s most popular Internet site, Inbox.lv, was visited 800,000 times in May 2010.
The statistics for 2016 show that the number of Internet portal visitors has grown and the popularity of the sites has changed. The top ten were Delfi.lv (921,974), then came the e-mail service provider Inbox.lv (889,277), Tvnet.lv/Apollo.lv (885,796) followed by the Latvian social media Draugiem.lv, entertainment site Skaties.lv, celebrity and rumour site Kasjauns.lv, e-shopping comparison site Salidzini.lv, public service media portal Lsm.lv, the portal of newspaper Latvijas Avīze and lastly the information site 1188.lv.
In 2015 the number of users accessing the Internet on their mobile phones grew by 46 percent and on tablet PCs by 39 percent. According to Gemius Audience figures, the average monthly time spent on the Internet was 16 hours from computers, 4 hours from mobile phones and 1.5 hours from tablet PCs. The first Internet versions of Latvia’s press publications began to appear in the early 2000s with newspapers initially fully or partially presenting their print content. Later they started to offer updated news and additional sections (video, photos, user’s content, blogs, etc). Still, most of the content on newspaper portals continues to involve republishing of print materials or annotations.
Internet portal visitor numbers show that news portals with their independent editorial teams (the so-called pure players) are frequented more than the websites of other media (television, radio or press). Online media as a whole have become more professional and there has been a transition from the first stage of copying and pasting information from news agencies and other media to the next phase of creating original content according to journalistic standards and values. The largest news portals have editorial offices that can compete with the news desks of traditional media. The largest internet portals Delfi.lv and Tvnet.lv have more than 15 years of experience.
It is true that there is still a whole series of websites whose operations are an imitation of media activities; their content cannot be trusted or it is deliberately distorted. The latest study by not-for-profit investigative journalism centre Re:Baltica “How to make money with fake news” (7/12/2016) looks at pseudo-news portals that publish fake news not in the interests of some political party or ideology, but for business purposes. With scandalous and false information such as, for example, parliamentarians who want to reduce pensions, websites created by young people on social media that amass clicks and accordingly build up revenue from advertising. The content of the news or its veracity is irrelevant, what is important is to ensure a high desire for Internet users to read it.
The public service media portal LSM.lv is a joint Latvian Television and Latvian Radio news portal, which began operating at the beginning of 2013 in the Latvian language. Russian- (Rus.lsm.lv) and English-language (Eng.lsm.lv) versions were added later. The portal reflects informative and analytical content from both public service media organisations as well as creating its own publications.
The owners of Ir magazine Cits Medijs also have their own portal Irir.lv that combines journalism with community communication. It is based on news, journalistic comments and user-generated content such as general views, and communication with the authors of the articles, other like-minded users and visitors of the site.
There are several digital magazines in Latvia for example, LILLÁ, which appeared in 2013 and is intended mainly for a female audience. Publishers Mediju Nams produced the mobile application Sofa in May 2016. This is a free digital magazine with personalised content (one can choose favourite themes from 18 categories). The content changes almost every time it is opened, as if a new issue had been printed.
The Internet had 19 percent of the advertising market in 2015 not including overseas registered media, social networks and Google. This represents an increase of 38 percent compared to 2014. The Latvian Advertising Association points out that the increase in 2015 can be explained by both the development of new digital products and the ability to digitalise traditional products. However, advertising revenue continues to flow out to Internet resources based overseas.