Local television industry is facing a harmful imbalance in relation with sharing of advertising budgets, but also with the parasitic practice on broadcasts from Russia and Romania. More than 70 percent of Moldova's TV advertising revenues go to television stations that broadcast television programs in our country from the Russian Federation, and some of that money is transferred directly to Moscow but not used for the development of the local television industry.
This is the finding of the media expert Dumitru Țîra, who states that the remaining 10 televisions that produce local audiovisual content have access to only a quarter of the money from advertising.
This discrepancy deepened with the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, according to an investigation conducted by the chief editor of PRIME, Ana Butnariuc.Representatives of advertisment agencies admit that some clients have withdrawn their promotion campaigns form news channels or news blocks, claiming that they do not want to be associated with violence. The same companies continue to promote themselves on Russian television, which avoids informing in detail about Russia's invasion of the neighboring state.
ANA BUTNARIUC, chief editor of PRIME: "Local television industry is dominated by Russian TV channels, which either have final beneficiaries in the Russian Federation or parasitize on programs rebroadcasted on Moscow's television. These televisions have multiplied like mushrooms after rain in direct proportion to the excessive tolerance of the authorities towards those who parasitize in the Moldovan audiovisual. Worse is that according to estimates by experts in the field, audiovisual parasites put most of their advertising money in their pockets, without spending it on generating local content and job creation on the Moldovan media market. And this state of affairs seriously affects the financial independence of the authentic Moldovan televisions, which make TV programs according to the interests of the Moldovan society."
DUMITRU ŢÎRA, media expert: "Practically, historically, in the last 10-15 years, in fact, the share of advertising that goes to the televisions broadcast from the Russian Federation reaches 70-75 percent annually. It varies from year to year, but the share is there, maybe I would even say it is between 70 and 80 percent. Some of that money is going to the Russian Federation as a retransmission fee. Out of this 70-75 percent is the cost of television which are reduced. They make up a third of the money raised. And 20-25-30 percent is allocated to the other televisions, which are mostly local TV channels and have no chance of developing at the appropriate annual budget capacity."
ANA BUTNARIUC, chief editor of PRIME: "In other words, the sour cream from the TV advertising pot is collected not only with the spoon, but even with the ladle by those who parasitize with retransmissions, and the whey remains on the authentic televisions that produce programs for the Moldovan public. The study "Media market in the Republic of Moldova: realities and trends", recently launched by the Center for Independent Journalism shows that although TV channels have a share of 53 percent of the advertising market, the volume of this market registered fluctuations in the last year. "
In 2013, the TV advertising market was worth a total of 14.8 million euros, this figure has decreased and reached 2019 in 14.5 million euros. And in 2020, when the economy was severely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, budgets for the TV market were reduced to 14 million euros. Last year, the TV advertising market registered a slight increase, the investments amounting to 14.5 million euros, the Center for Independent Journalism study also shows.
ANA BUTNARIUC, chief editor of PRIME: "And only a small slice of the advertising budget pie reaches the authentic Moldovan televisions. And if we take into account the estimates of the media expert Dumitru Ţîra regarding the distribution of the TV advertising budgets, it shows that 10-15 televisions that invest in local products have access to only 3.6 million euros from the advertising market, the remaining over 10 million euros are poured into Russian televisions, many of which ignore for years the obligation to invest in the realization of the local audiovisual product because the Moldovan state allows it. In these conditions of disloyal competition, the chances of the Moldovan television market to develop professionally and become financially sustainable and independent are extremely low."
DUMITRU ŢÎRA, media expert: "We, as a country, will never be able to develop or develop the local audiovisual as long as the media is not independent. The independence of the media actually means the advertising money that is collected by the media institutions. "
We tried to find out from the advertising agencies that mediate the placement of advertising how they explain the fact that the advertising budgets are mainly directed to the televisions that have final beneficiaries from the Russian Federation or retransmit the television programs from Moscow, but only two representatives in the field agreed to discuss this sensitive topic.
DOREL SAMOILĂ, CEO Publicis Media Agency: "These channels show the largest audiences. That is, people in Moldova follow the channels given in the largest volume. This largely explains why we have the largest volume of inventory purchased by the advertising companies on those stations. If we take the advertising market in Moldova, half of the volume of advertising inventory is purchased by the top 30 companies. Respectively, they look at the numbers. They look at the audience of the stations where they can find their audience the fastest, most efficiently meaning the cheapest."
DIANA BOICO, founder of advertising agency "GROUP M": "For many, many years, since independence, the consumer has been accustomed to consuming Russian-language content, and the channels that have built their business on it have had the choice to buy content on a high price from the West or to invest in content that is consumed with great pleasure by our audience, but which is cheaper, from the East. And that's where this whole story comes from. "
An analysis by TV8 revealed that the share of advertising on Russian TV stations in Moldova increased in the first three months of 2022 compared to the same period last year, and the largest fluctuations were reported in the advertising of Moldovan banks and international pharmaceutical companies.
MARIANA RAŢĂ, journalist TV8: "How is it possible that during the war, when it is clear that the Russian Federation is an aggressor state, more than half of the publicity from Republic of Moldova will go to pro-Russian or even Russian channels. Here is the chart shown by our colleagues."
Moreover, representatives of TV8, Jurnal TV and N4 complained that with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, some advertising clients had redirected their advertising campaigns from television stations that reflected in detail the war in the neighboring state on russian TV stations, who fail to report on the subject and continue to broadcast programs produced in Moscow. And this contrasts with the international trend of stopping business with Russian entities or those with ties to Russia.
GHEORGHE GONŢA, journalist N4: "These are the big international companies, the mother companies, which are based in the West, and the companies based here are, as Mr. Macovei said, ignoring everything and giving advertisment to certain channels that are federal, which are supported by the Kremlin."
DOREL SAMOILĂ, CEO Publicis Media Agency: "I did not notice a specific increase in the share on those dates. For example, I would say that our customers ... Our fall at the end of february looks like minus 40-50 percent.
What we negotiated and launched in January - February was purely bussiness, where we had better conditions to cover the audience, we work with all companies in Moldova."
DIANA BOICO, founder of advertising agency "GROUP M": "We are where the audience is and the budgets are adjusted on the channels where the audience is. There have been no changes in strategies due to this conflict, so no budgets have been allocated from one channel to another. These things have been circulated now as well, because you have given me the right to an opinion, I can assure you that they have not been reallocated. "
However, television channels that create local programs and which responded to the public interest in reporting in detail about the war in Ukraine were disadvantaged by some brand advertisers "brand safety" policies.
DIANA BOICO, founder of advertising agency "GROUP M": "For example, there are a few steps: there are customers who have withdrawn their budgets from television, given the context and the fact that there is a lot of information about the war from all sides, on all channels. That was the most drastic withdrawal of the budget.
There are customers who have paused their advertising activities until a resolution of this conflict is reached. They have not completely withdrawn their budgets from the market and intend to return to communication activities as soon as the intensity of the news about the war decreases.There are customers who have immediately expressed their desire to be removed from the news channels or from the blocks that are around the news in order not to be directly associated with the editorial politics of one or another channel. There are different measures, depending on the client. "
Publika TV, Jurnal TV and TV8 have fallen victim to such business politics of some advertising clients, especially international ones. Some of them have protested against Russia's invasion of Ukraine, but paradoxically prefer to promote themselves on television with final beneficiaries from the Russian Federation or which retransmit Moscow-funded television.
DUMITRU MIŞIN, journalist Jurnal TV: "The component of this war, which affects our television channel, and not just that, because today all budgets reach these channels broadcasted from the Russian Federation. There are many producers who, through this way of operating, finance things, including Russian propaganda."
And now the question: to what extent do such decisions and strategies correspond to the public interest in Moldovan society, where these companies sell goods or services and accumulate profit?
DIANA BOICO, founder of advertising agency "GROUP M": "We live in the Republic of Moldova, Ana, we do not live in Russia, so any client makes the decision based on the market in which it operates. If we had lived in Russia, the situation would have been different. We live in the Republic of Moldova, country which is not involved in the conflict, the country in which the economy works, the country which consumes. Okay, consumption power is declining and we understand that, but it's still being consumed. And in this context, I repeat, any client chooses to place themselves where their audience is, regardless of the language of the content of this channel."
The financial director of TV8 Vasile Gherman appealed to the morality of advertising clients and those who mediate the placement of advertising on TV.
VASILE GHERMAN, financial director TV8: "In business, in order to have a favorable environment and in today's conditions, you must have conditions of peace, and to be able to function, continue to work, I think they should be called to morality, to analyze more broadly how those budgets are oriented and to whom they're going."
Advertising agencies have other arguments.
DIANA BOICO, founder of advertising agency "GROUP M": "But everyone is using the tools that they can and have, and as I told you before, what is happening in Ukraine is very, very tragic. If that would help somehow to solve this, I think that many would take such decision. But I think this call was opportunistic in my view, because they might think that they could get more budgets this way."
ANA BUTNARIUC, chief editor of PRIME: "Each party has its own arguments, but it is certain that the Moldovan audiovisual is caught in a vicious circle of financial marginalization of television with local programs, compared to those that parasitize on retransmissions. It is no wonder that the audience of some local programs can be smaller than the audience of programs retransmitted from the Russian Federation, Romania, Ukraine or from other countries, in whose advertising markets tens of billions of euros are spent annually. And these money are invested in the quality of TV production. It is not fair at all for these foreign programs to compete with programs from Republic of Moldova, which represents a small market and generates much lower advertising budgets. "
Media expert Dumitru Ţîra claims that on TV channels that broadcast from Russia or Romania, 75% of the advertising blocks are on the slots of the broadcasted programs. The director of the Electronic Press Association, APEL, considers that a solution to stop disloyal audiovisual competition would be a legislative initiative that would allow advertising to be broadcasted only in the blocks of programs made in the Republic of Moldova.
In the June 2017 issue of the biannual analytical magazine "Mass-media", published by the Center for Independent Journalism, Ion Bunduchi launched the question how would a single legal provision clear and functional would revolutionize the field: each radio station may place commercial advertising only in the programs it produces with its own human and financial resources. The provision would have at least two beneficial effects: it would stimulate the local product and minimize the informational parasitism, the media expert pointed out five years ago in the article entitled "Local media: the opportunity for real change".
DUMITRU ŢÎRA, media expert: "Yes, it is an idea that has been planned for more than five years and attempts have been made, including for the 2018 Media Services Code, in the sense of obliging media or television institutions, in particular, to place advertising in the local product. The key is the development of the local product and only in this case will the local or national media institutions of the Republic of Moldova develop in some way and maybe we will finally get rid of these retransmissions."
However, some advertisers believe that such an audiovisual revolution could lead to a temporary reduction in advertising budgets.
DOREL SAMOILĂ, CEO Publicis Media Agency: "So when we limit the time and the shows in which an advertisement will be placed, this automatically means that the volume of the audience with which we can communicate through TV decreases. And then the interest towards television in general decreases. I'm not a journalist, and I'd probably be less able to make predictions about how quickly local content can be built to be the same quality as the content that will be gone when it's impossible to place advertisments, I really can't give you here any ideas or how I would look at this part."
Surprisingly, there are other approaches in this area. For example, Diana Boico, the founder of a major group of advertisers, believes that Moldova's television content industry can only be developed if our country takes over the experience of Ukraine, which has banned the broadcasting of television programs from the Russian Federation, so all broadcasters from the jurisdiction of the Republic of Moldova to be placed on equal terms.
DIANA BOICO, founder of advertising agency "GROUP M": "This could have happened 10 years ago, and 5 years ago, no matter who was, or is in government. In my opinion, it is very important to create a local product. In my opinion, it is very important to be able to be proud of the values that belong to us. And I give you a personal opinion, there was probably a mistake in the early 2000s that this market was left dominated by Russian-language content or Russian content, such as the example of our neighbors in Ukraine, who in 2004 banned the retransmission of all Russian channels, have made an effort to form the local media market, have invested in content creation, which, yes, at first may have been weaker than what you could buy in Russia or other regions, but the market has grown. Money has been invested in local production, money has been invested in increasing skills, money has been invested in creating jobs in the local media, and in recent years Ukrainian production has been of high quality."
In order for local television to be able to develop, the retransmission of channels from other countries should be banned by law, whether it is about Russia or Romania? It is a topic that provokes controversy in TV studios, even after 30 years of independence of the Moldovan state.
DUMITRU ŢÎRA, media expert: "I think we need to have local programs. Those who want to broadcast, this is another type of business in the field of TV. You colect a group of 10-15 channels, go to cable operator X and tell him I want one leu per subscriber. They broadcast cable and IPTV, which today exceeds 80 percent of the country's coverage, and this will in no way violate anyone's right to access television in one language or another. "
PETRU MACOVEI, executive director of the Independent Press Association: "It was a big mistake to allow retransmission at the beginning of our country's independence. But I am not in favor of a total ban on retransmission. I am convinced that countries that have signed the European Convention on Transfrontier Television should be allowed to broadcast. At the same time, I agree with Dumitru and I think that the conditions should be different for those who produce one hundred percent or a much larger proportion of the local product they invest in. And we have many TV channels, not many, a few televisions that make their product with their money compared to the televisions that make retransmission. It should be a margin of ... and in relation to state policies, such as advertising or other things. "
The executive director of APEL Electronic Press Association, Ion Bunduchi, considers that, in general, the media needs atypical solutions, such as an atypical and specific economic agent, which, in a state governed by the rule of law, must provide public services. To get a social effect and at the same time have to sell audience points to get an economic effect.
ION BUNDUCHI, executive director of the Electronic Press Association "APEL": "If the media only tends to profit then it limps the social goal and cannot achieve it. The market regulates many, but not all, it's also the case of the mass-media. The rules of the market economy cannot regulate so that the media can reach the social and profit goal. It is also the reason why some institutions fight only for profit. And then the chase for clicks, the chase for nonsense that brings popularity and audience, but does not reach its other goal, that's why we need state intervention, when it comes to the media, that's why we need state policies for development of the media, so that this field does not go only on the side of profit. "
ANA BUTNARIUC, chief editor of PRIME: "While local television producers who make local programs do not even dream of making a profit and barely raise money for employees' salaries, the money in the Moldovan advertising market continues to bring a profit in the pockets of those who can rightly be called the diggers of the industry of the moldovan television. "
ANA BUTNARIUC, chief editor of PRIME: "And that's because they never wanted to move from the status of a speculator of retransmitted TV content to that of an investor in domestic audiovisual. Even worse is that by retransmitting programs from other countries, the population of the Republic of Moldova is subjected to a transfusion of priorities, cultural values, social policies that are foreign to us, which is dangerous for national security. "