“This evening we are beginning an experimental broadcast on Riga Television. Today you will see the movie Mājup ar uzvaru (Homeward with Victory).” Those were the words that launched the first television broadcast in Latvia on 6 November 1954. Latvia was the first of the three Soviet Baltic republics to have its own television station. Before that, television broadcasts in the USSR had been available only in Moscow, Leningrad and Kyiv. Colour broadcasting on Riga TV began in 1974.
The first private television stations appeared in Latvia shortly after the restoration of the country’s independence in 1991. In 2010, Latvia switched from analogue to digital terrestrial TV broadcasting. Analogue broadcasting was switched off in all of Latvia on 1 June, and people needed a decoder or a TV set with an installed MPEG4 format decoder to see television programmes made in Latvia. It is still possible to watch Russian and Belarusian TV programmes without a decoder in some eastern border regions .
A substantial re-division of the television audience occurred in the early 1990s, when imported satellite dishes (bringing foreign television channels) first became available.
In 2015 95.6 percent of households in Latvia had a television set and on average, 19.1 percent of them used digital terrestrial broadcasting but 4.2 percent watched only the free-to-air channels. There are five free-to-air channels – the public service channels LTV1 and LTV7 and the private channels Re:Tv, Riga TV24 and Sportacentrs.com.
In 2016 the average television viewer spent 4 hours and 48 minutes in front of the screen each day – 22 minutes less than in 2015. The most watched linear TV service in 2016 was TV3 with an 11 percent share. It is followed by LTV1 (9.5 percent), PBK (9.3 percent), NTV Mir Baltic (7.7 percent), LNT (7.4 percent), Rossiya RTR, (3.5 percent), REN TV Baltic (3.1 percent) and 3+ (2.9 percent). The channels LTV7 and TV6 each had a 2.6 percent share of total viewing time.
The most popular TV programme in 2016 was the final of the 61st International Eurovision Song Contest, which was watched by almost 12 percent of the population. Special media events attract a large viewership and 32 of the top 40 programmes were aired only once. Kantar TNS has found that the most popular regularly aired broadcasts are dominated by the shows Es mīlu tevi, Latvija! and Izklausies redzēts, Latvian serials Ugunsgrēks and Saplēstā krūze, and the programmes Nekā Personīga and Bez Tabu.
TV3 has been the most popular channel for the last six years. It is owned by MTG TV Latvia that also has the TV channels LNT, TV6 and Kanāls 2, the radio station Star FM, the largest video portal in Latvia TVPlay as well as the news and entertainment portal Skaties.lv. Rossiya RTR experienced the biggest drop in viewing time due to a six-months ban on its retransmission in Latvia.
Among the leading cable television operators in Latvia are Baltkom and Lattelecom, while Viasat is the leading provider of satellite services.
Incumbent telecoms operator Lattelecom has also entered the television services market alongside its Internet services. In 2014 it was the first in Europe to set up a pop-up TV channel Positivus TV dedicated to the Positivus music festival. In one and a half months it was watched by 130,000 households. After several of these pop-up channel ventures, in 2015 Lattelecom started offering its own permanent channels 360TV and STV Pirmā, which is intended for a female audience.
Mobile telephone operator LMT has created the LMT Straume application for smart devices offering live streaming from sports, cultural and arts events, conferences etc. The full LMT Straume service is available only to LMT clients on the LMT network.
In 2016 mobile telephone operator Tele2 began its new television and video service – Open Television. Users can choose packages and applications with access to a broad range of TV shows and films. With a streaming device the content of any application can be easily transferred from a phone to a television or any other large screen. LMT also began to offer its clients smart television in 2016.
The popularity of Internet based catch-up TV services such as TVPlay.lv and Replay.lv is also growing. That 4.4 percent of the population have no TV set at home is not only because of financial hardship but also a conscious decision. Fewer and fewer people arrange their lives around the TV schedule, preferring to watch recordings on the Internet or taking advantage of the service provider’s TV archive function. In recent years, advances in technology have brought an increasing development of non-linear consumption of television programmes. Kantar TNS figures show that in 2016 5.5 percent of the population has watched television on a time-shifted basis.
Latvia’s inhabitants like to use several types of media in parallel. In 2012, one third surfed the web while watching TV and discussed what they’d seen on social networks. Taking into account that in August 2015, 698,000 users had had used the Internet on their mobile phones, the number of people consuming various media simultaneously could be higher.
Information gathered by the Latvian security services and strategic communications researchers shows that for many years now, the Latvian media environment is being used to disseminate tendentious information about Latvia that has been either created in or initiated by Russia. These actions are intended to influence public opinion, and undermine national pride and identity thus presenting a threat to Latvia’s statehood. The leading Russian television channels are one of the most effective instruments to reach wide audiences across borders. For Russian speakers in Latvia, television is the main source of information about events in Latvia (77.4 percent), elsewhere in the world (76 percent), in Russia (78.1 percent). The most watched TV channels by Latvia’s Russian-speaking audience are Pirmais Baltijas Kanāls (PBK), NTV Mir Baltic and Rossiya RTR, which belong wholly or partly to Russian owners.
In 2014-2015 there was an idea to create a Latvian (or even pan-Baltic) TV channel for the Russian-speaking population with trustworthy content and quality journalism. Unlike Estonia, that founded the ETV+ channel, in Latvia the idea did not take off – the powers in place were not convinced that the considerable financial investment required would reach the objective of the channel to be able to compete with the offer of Russian channels and attract the Russian-speaking audience. This issue was raised again in March 2016 when, because of financial considerations, MTG TV Latvia closed its Russian language channel TV5, which, incidentally, also had its own news service. Although public service channel LTV7 has a Russian-language news service producing news and analytical programmes, the closure of TV5, which had reasonably good ratings, was a relatively serious blow for the Latvian media environment. Its audience share was around 4 percent and most likely these viewers have now gone over to consuming content produced in third countries.
There were 25 television operators in Latvia at the end of 2009, the largest number in recent years. In 2013 the number of regional and national TV channels had fallen to 18.
Latvian Television, which is Latvia’s public broadcaster, offers two channels: LTV1 has an emphasis on informative broadcasts and analytical, children’s and cultural programmes, LTV7, on the other hand, is more focused on sports, youth programming and entertainment, and programmes in Russian language. LTV7 is criticised for not being clearly positioned and thus its audience share is relatively low (2.6 percent). Its share increases in those months when it broadcasts important events. For example, in 2014 LTV7 had a 5 percent share because it transmitted the Sochi Winter Olympics and the Football World Cup finals.
Latvian Television is a state-owned limited liability company. Approximately 60 percent of its financing comes from the state budget. The company earns the rest of its income autonomously through advertising. In 2015 there was a debate over whether public service media should leave the advertising market but this idea was put on hold because of uncertainty about the possibility of the state to ensure compensation. In order to cover the loss in revenue from advertising, the amount of subsidy required in compensation from the state budget would be around €8m.
Television stations are owned by several groups of companies, one being the Modern Times Group whose affiliate MTG TV Latvia owns TV3, TV6, TV2 and LNT. In 2012 the Competition Council decided to allow MTG Broadcasting AB to acquire AS Latvijas Neatkarīgā Televīzija, which then owned the LNT and TV5 channels. Because the acquisition would lead to a serious increase in concentration, the Competition Council imposed binding conditions to prevent harm to competition, protect advertisers, TV content distributors and protect the interests of the end consumers – the viewers.
In 2015 television had 43 percent of the advertising market (just as in 2014). Although the Internet share is growing (19 percent), television remained the market leader in terms of advertising share.