The Nordic countries Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden are individually small but together have a population of more than 25 million people. Historically there are strong links between them and they have to a large extent a common history, which also includes much warfare up to the beginning of the nineteenth century. The languages of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden are very similar, whereas those of Finland and Iceland are different from the others. The countries are socially homogeneous, but this is changing because of immigration, especially in metropolitan areas.
Nordic politics is characterized by strong parties and strong organizations. There is a clear left/right dimension in political preferences, but most countries are governed by middle-of-the-road politics. The Nordic political communication system has been characterized as democratic corporatist by Hallin & Mancini (2004), which means (1) a strong political media tradition, which originated in the press but also affects radio and television; (2) an independent journalistic profession devoted to political coverage; (3) acceptance of state intervention in media structure, but not in content.
The Development Of Nordic Media
A basic characteristic of the Nordic countries is a daily press that is highest in the world in terms of newspaper penetration. The first newspapers were published in the midseventeenth century, Ordinari Post Tijdender in Sweden (1645) and Den Danske Mercurius in Denmark (1660), both controlled by the monarch. It was over 100 years before the first newspapers were published in Norway (1763) and Finland (1771), and later still in Iceland (1910). The mass press developed in most Nordic countries in the last decades of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth. The press gradually became affiliated to political parties, and in the early twentieth century a strong party press developed. Newspaper concentration and professional journalism weakened party ties in the 1960s.
Radio was established under similar conditions in all Nordic countries in the early 1920s, mostly by local radio clubs. In the mid 1920s they were gradually replaced by a state-controlled radio organization. Radio was from its beginning financed by receiver license fees. Television, which began transmissions between 1951 (Denmark) and 1966 (Iceland), was originally organized as an extension of the radio and followed the concept of public service radio.
During the 1980s satellite television brought an end to the monopoly of the national public service. Private television gradually became accepted in all countries, first by satellite transmission, then as terrestrial broadcasting. The radio market was opened up to independent stations in the 1980s. In the 1990s there were private radio and television channels in all the Nordic countries.
Media legislation is formally somewhat different between the Nordic countries, but they all have a strong tradition of press freedom. The constitutions of all the countries guarantee press freedom: in Sweden it is regulated by a basic law originating from 1766; in Norway press freedom was introduced in 1814 as part of its first constitution; in Denmark laws enabling press freedom were enacted in the midnineteenth century. All the countries also have press laws dealing with, among other things, the responsibility of editors. In Norway there is a special law regulating market shares of newspaper, radio, and television companies.
Freedom is extended to the content of radio and television, and in Sweden this is allowed for in a basic law. The organizational and technical aspects are regulated by additional laws. The Internet is generally treated like the press, which means there is freedom to establish websites and no restrictions on content. Laws also grant citizens access to public documents. In the Nordic countries there are voluntary systems for media accountability, normally an ethical code of conduct supervised by a press or media council, but the models are different in scope and organization.
The Newspaper System
Nordic newspapers play an important role in the societies as agenda setters in the political system: reading a newspaper is regarded as an expression of social participation. Newspapers are mainly locally or regionally based; in fact, only the so-called tabloid newspapers and business papers can be regarded as having a national readership. About 80 percent of the total circulation consists of subscribed papers based on home delivery. There are systems of press subsidies in all the countries except Denmark, but they generally play a minor role except for small newspapers.
There are about 85 daily newspapers (4–7 issues a week) in Sweden, 75 in Finland, 55 in Norway, 30 in Denmark, and 2 in Iceland. The total circulation varies from 1.3 million (Denmark) to 3.6 million (Sweden). The average circulation ranges from 30,000 (Norway) to 45,000 (Sweden). Both Finland and Norway have a strong non-daily press, normally very local newspapers, about 150 each, while Denmark differs in having about 300 free nondailies. In all countries but Iceland there is a clear market differentiation between local or regional quality papers and national single-copy sale tabloids, the latter group being relatively weak in Denmark and Finland. The dailies with the highest circulation in Norway (Verdens Gang) and Sweden (Aftonbladet) are single-copy sale papers, while in Denmark (Jyllandsposten), Finland (Helsingin Sanomat), and Iceland (Morgunbladid) they are subscribed morning papers.
Free dailies play an important role in all the Nordic countries, except Norway. The first modern free daily in the world, the Stockholm Metro, started in 1995. The concept has developed and nowadays the newspaper with the largest reach in Iceland is a free daily (Frettabladid). In Sweden and Denmark especially they also have a high circulation even outside the metropolitan areas.
The total circulation of paid newspapers per 1,000 adults exceeds 600 for Norway and 500 for Finland and Sweden, whereas Iceland and particularly Denmark show somewhat lower figures: for dailies it ranges from 520 in Norway and around 400 in Finland and Sweden to 230 in Denmark. On an average day more than 80 percent of the adult population in the Nordic countries reads at least one newspaper, Norway, Finland, and Sweden reporting the highest figures of more than one. An important reason for the high penetration is that newspapers reach almost all social groups in society. If free dailies are included, the readership is even higher, since they are read mainly by nonreaders of the traditional paid papers, like young people and immigrants. While the Nordic countries still rank top in the world in terms of market penetration, a gradual decline has been observed for paid newspapers in all the countries.
Although newspapers have lost some of their dominance in the advertising market to television and direct mail they still have between 45 percent (Sweden) and 55 percent (Denmark, Finland, and Norway) of the advertising market (2005). The loss in share has been compensated by an increase in the total advertising market, due mainly to the introduction of commercial television. The free dailies have also taken a substantial share of the advertising market in most Nordic countries. In spite of this the traditional newspaper business is generally profitable.
Newspaper concentration has increased. This is especially true for Denmark and Iceland, where a few actors dominate the scene, whereas local press chains are strong in Finland, Norway, and Sweden. In terms of ownership the Nordic region is increasingly regarded as one market. Two main newspaper companies in Norway and Sweden, Schibsted and Bonnier, have interests in most of the other Nordic countries as well as outside the region. Leading the market of free dailies is the Swedish Metro International, owned by among others the Modern Times Group (MTG). Most newspaper companies also have interests in other media. Foreign conglomerates have so far played a minor role.
There is also a relatively strong magazine press in the Nordic countries, especially in Denmark and Norway. Special magazines have a strong standing. In the magazine market the Danish companies Egmont and Aller and the Swedish Bonnier Group play an important role in most Nordic countries.
The Radio System
All Nordic countries have a “dual” radio system of public and commercial stations. Public service radio has maintained a majority share of the market – between 50 percent in Finland and Iceland and 65 percent in Denmark and Sweden – in competition with the private radio channels. Public service radio consists of two to four national channels, for news and public affairs, classical music and pop music, and regional or local stations focusing on news. It is financed mainly by receiver license fees, except in Iceland where advertising is permitted.
The monopoly for public service radio was abolished in the 1980s. At first private radio concessions were restricted to local stations, both nonprofit stations operated by local organizations as community radio and commercial stations. Gradually stations with national distribution were also permitted, like the Icelandic Bylgjan (established in 1986) and the Norwegian P4 in 1993. Sweden is the only country with no nationwide private radio channel, but local stations with the same owner have formed networks to attract national advertising. The content profiles of public service and private radio are different: Public service radio is more oriented to discussion programs, whereas the latter focus on popular music. In most countries the concessions for private radio contain some requirements regarding the programming, mainly news or a certain amount of local coverage.
In most Nordic countries commercial radio has faced economic problems. The cost of the concessions has been relatively high whereas radio’s share of the advertising market is only about 3 percent, which is clearly below the European average. The problems have affected mainly local stations, while some national channels have been somewhat better off. The Icelandic market differs from the other countries, with radio advertising having a share of more than 10 percent. The private radio stations are mainly owned by either national multimedia companies or international companies specializing in radio, e.g., the multi-national Scandinavian Broadcasting System (SBS), which is active in most Nordic countries, and the French NRJ.
The share of the population that listens to radio on an average day is about 70–80 percent in all countries and the average listening time more than two hours. Even though public service radio still holds a strong position, in general, its audience is predominantly elderly people, while young people listen mostly to commercial radio. Analogue distribution is still the dominant form in Nordic radio, but most radio broadcasters also transmit digital signals – online or via DAB or DVB. The experiments with DAB and DVB have been carried out mainly by the public service broadcasters.
The Television System
Television in the Nordic countries was from its start heavily regulated. However, from the late 1980s a dual system gradually developed. Satellite and cable channels were permitted and were later followed by concessions for private national television. Finland is an exception because of its acceptance of private television from the start in 1957, as a time slot on the public service channel. In the late 1980s private television started the first channel of its own and later established an independent private network.
Public service television started as one-channel systems financed mainly by receiver license fees, but in Iceland advertising was also permitted. A second channel was introduced in Finland and Sweden in the 1960s, and in Denmark and Norway in the mid1990s as part of public service broadcasting. Iceland still has only one public service channel. In Denmark a second channel was established in 1988. It was organized as an independent public service company (TV2), originally financed by both receiver license fees and advertising, and also given responsibility for regional television.
The five public service companies – Danmarks Radio (DR) in Denmark, Yleisradio (YLE) in Finland, Rikisúdvarpid (RÚV) in Iceland, Norsk Rikskringkasting (NRK) in Norway, and Sveriges Televsion (SVT) in Sweden – have a strong position in Nordic television. They broadcast two national channels each, except RÚV, and have developed new, often specialist, channels as part of their adaptation to the digital transmission system. Their audience share varies from about 35 percent in Iceland and about 45 percent in Finland and Norway, to 70 percent in Denmark if DR and TV2 are considered together.
The commercial television sector in the Nordic countries consists of three types of channels: (1) terrestrial channels licensed by the government and financed by advertising; (2) satellite channels financed by advertising; and (3) satellite channels financed mainly by subscription fees. From the start of private television there has been at least one nationwide terrestrial channel in each country, the Danish channel being built on a network of ten local stations that together do not reach the whole population. The main satellite channels reach almost two-thirds of the population. The largest satellite network is TV3 (two channels in Denmark, one each in Norway and Sweden), broadcasting from the United Kingdom. Some of the private terrestrial TV companies have introduced specialist channels via satellite and cable.
The content profile of the public service channels is a broad public service offering both fact and fiction, but especially strong on news and public affairs. The national private channels that have a concession from the government also carry news and deal with public affairs. The strictly commercial channels offer mostly fiction including very short news updates. Local television is broadcast by both public service and private channels.
The economy of television has been quite strong for the national commercial channels, but weak for channels based on satellite broadcasting. Television’s share of media advertising is between 20 and 25 percent and it is increasing. The actors in the area of nationwide private television are the main media companies of the individual countries: SanomaWSOY and Nordic Broadcasting in Finland, Schibsted in Norway, and Bonnier in Sweden. Denmark is an exception since the multinational SBS controls its semi-national private TV network. In the satellite sector the dominant companies are the Swedish MTG (TV3, TV1000, and the Viasat channels) and SBS.
Almost every Nordic household has access to public service television, about half to cable, and 15 to 30 percent have a satellite dish, except in Iceland which has a lower figure. Daily reach of television is about 70–80 percent of the population in all countries. The viewing time per day is quite low compared with other countries, with an average of 150–170 minutes per day. Among the foreign channels with the widest reach in the Nordic region are Eurosport, MTV, and Discovery, which broadcast in most Nordic languages. Analogue transmissions are gradually being phased out. In Finland all terrestrial channels will be broadcasting digitally in 2007, and in Sweden in 2008. In Denmark and Norway total digitization is scheduled for 2009. Digitization will increase the number of specialist channels.
Internet And Other New Media
The penetration of the Internet in the Nordic countries is generally high. Household access varies between about 70 percent in Finland and about 85 percent in Iceland, compared to the European average of less than 50 percent (2005). The expansion has been part of the increased interest in all types of new media technology. The dissemination has been especially rapid in the urban areas and among the youth. Use of the Internet on an average day is somewhat lower than the penetration of about 50 percent, and is mainly at the workplace. Home use has increased because of extended broadband access: in 2005 broadband access in the Nordic countries exceeded 50 percent when the average for Europe was under 25 percent.
In the Nordic countries all the main media established themselves early on the Internet. In the second half of the 1990s almost all Nordic newspapers were established online. Newspapers have developed different models to reach a large audience at reasonable cost. The sites are financed by advertising. Experiments with subscription fees have been abandoned, except for certain areas like news from the stock exchange or weight-watcher clubs. Most newspapers sites have meant economic losses for the publishing companies, even though recent years have seen a positive advertising trend. The main media companies have developed new Internet services. The Norwegian company Schibsted has generated an increasing share of its profit from Internet operations in the Nordic countries and internationally.
Nordic Internet users have a strong preference for newspaper reading on the Internet. About 40 percent of the population in Denmark, Finland, and Sweden read such papers regularly, and 60 percent in Iceland and Norway, compared to listening to music, which amounts to an average of 25 percent, or web radio or web TV, with about 20 percent. The areas of fastest growth in Internet use are in other services, like banking.
Character Of Media Development
Since the late 1980s the Nordic media system has been characterized by gradual fragmentation. It is most obvious for television, where the market share for public service decreased from 97 to under 40 percent in fewer than 15 years. Trends in radio are not that dramatic, and public service radio still attracts the majority of listeners. Free dailies have meant an expansion in newspaper readership, but also had a negative impact on the paid newspaper market. The other side of fragmentation is a strong “age segregation” in media habits.
A second characteristic is the strong increase of the role of entertainment and fictional content in all media. In the 1970s Nordic media still had strong profiles in news, public affairs, political debate, and documentaries, but the opening of the market during the 1980s changed the pattern, and increasing media competition has reinforced this development.
Another characteristic is the rapid dissemination of the Internet. Research shows that the Internet, so far at least, is a reading medium, which is probably due to the strong presence of newspapers on the Internet. It is difficult to draw any conclusions so far about the effects of the Internet on the printed press. The declining newspaper circulation may reflect competition but is also related to a price increase in newspapers, which may have increased interest in online newspapers and in free dailies.
A final observation is that advertising plays a much more important role for media development in the Nordic countries than it did three decades ago. The advertising market has expanded, but this has been mainly to the benefit of television and direct mail, while the traditional newspapers have lost a substantial share of the advertising market. This has forced newspapers to rationalize their operations and to increase cooperation, leading to a new wave of newspaper concentration, which may, at least in the long run, also change one of the basic features of the Nordic media system.
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