Television is by far the most popular type of media in Serbia. In 2015, a typical Serbian TV viewer spent an average 315 minutes per day in front of a TV set according to data from AGB Nielsen. However, according to the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) report from 2017, citizens of Serbia generally do not trust the media. The lowest trust is in print media, followed by TV, radio and social networks. People in Serbia tend to trust the Internet the most. Across all segments of the market, trust in media is showing a decreasing trend.
Today, there are more than 200 TV stations: five national TV stations, around 100 local and regional stations, over 100 cable stations, with a weekly reach of 6.9 million people.
Regulatorno telo za elektronske medije (Regulatory Authority for Electronic Media - REM) is in charge of issuing broadcasting licences. The first national licenses were issued in 2006, while local and regional ones were issued in 2007 and 2008. The licenses were extended in 2015 and 2016 and will last until 2024. Some media professionals warn that the extension of broadcasters’ permits was done without any analysis of media performance in previous years.
The high number of TV stations relies on a relatively small amount of advertising revenue while licensing fees paid to the state are high. Since 2008, when it reached its peak, the TV market has been recording a constant decrease. In 2013 a significant decrease of the TV market value of around 16 percent was recorded in comparison with the preceding year; in 2014 this level was maintained, while in 2016 a slight increase (8.3 percent) was recorded.
In TV advertising, as high as 89 percent belongs to TV stations with a national reach. The biggest part of the advertising market, according to data from 2015, belongs to Pink (36.4 percent), followed by Prva (22.9 percent), RTS 1 (13.6 percent), then B92 (12 percent), and Happy (4.4 percent).
The TV sector is financially unsustainable and highly competitive, forcing broadcasters to favour cheap entertainment programs over high-quality news production. According to the EBU survey from March 2016, Southern European countries (Serbia included) show the lowest degree of trust in TV.
Digitalisation of the television signal in Serbia was completed in 2015, putting an end to an almost 10-year-long process. It gave citizens an unlimited selection of television channels, with clearer and sharper image (HD), higher quality of sound, and a number of additional services, such as subtitles, delayed program viewing, and electronic shopping. This issue has been discussed in Serbia since 2006, when an agreement was signed and the state committed to carry out a transition to digital broadcasting. The process took as long as nine years and Serbia - due to a shortage of free frequencies, legislation, as well as modest funding - remained one of Europe’s last countries with an analog signal.
The biggest threats to media pluralism in Serbia are the concentration of audience and political influence over the media, according to research conducted by BIRN and the German branch of Reporters Without Borders. According to the research, 62.3 per cent of the audience in Serbia is shared between four broadcasters that own seven channels. These are the national broadcaster, Radio televizija Srbije (Radio Television of Serbia – RTS), and its regional subsidiary in Vojvodina, RTV, TV Pink, then TV Prva and B92 (now renamed O2), both owned by Antena Group, and TV Happy.
RTS 1, the country’s main public broadcasting channel, is the most watched electronic media in Serbia. RTS (with its three channels) is obliged by the Law on Public Broadcasting to produce a program for a wide audience, paying special attention to the public interest and minorities. During 2015 the average viewer spent two hours a day watching RTS 1. Most watched were either TV series domestically produced by RTS or live coverage of sports events. News and political debates make up to 30 percent of the entire production. Reports warn that public broadcaster is often biased towards the government and president, shows imbalance with regard to political affiliation, location, gender, the neglect of marginalised groups. RTS 2 and particularly RTS 3 are devoted to programs in culture, history, and documentaries.
TV Pink started operations in 1994. Today, it is second most watched TV station in the country (after public service broadcaster RTS) with 14.91 percent audience share, according to a Nielsen survey covering the period from April 1, 2016 to March 31, 2017. Its broadcast reach extends globally through Pink International’s licensing arrangements for two satellite television brands, Pink Plus and Pink Extra. Programming for these satellite channels is supplied by Pink International (TV Pink) and Pink BH (Bosnia and Herzegovina). In addition to this, there are 60 Pink cable channels ranging from Pink kids and Pink music to Pink erotika.
In 2017, the legendary B92 station, which became synonymous with resistance to Slobodan Milosevic's regime during the 1990s, was rebranded as O2 television. B92 was founded in 1989 as a radio station. Today, it includes television with national coverage, a cable television channel, a news website, and a radio now called Play Radio. It's programs are after transformation predominantly entertainment oriented.
The regional television network N1, CNN's cable affiliate news channel, was launched in October 2014, and airs from Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia. It has become known for its professional journalism and provocative questions. While N1 journalists win numerous awards for their work, Serbian officials are often hostile to them. N1 is owned by Adria News, part of United Media, which is a member of United Group – the same as SBB, a cable television and broadband internet service provider in Serbia. Majority shareholder of the United Group company is the KKR investment fund based in New York. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development holds a share in the capital of the broadcaster.