Media Landscapes

Romania

Written by Alexandru-Brădut Ulmanu

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The second largest country in Eastern Europe (after Poland), Romania has a population of 22 million and was one of the fastest growing economies in Europe until 2008, when it was hardly hit by the global economic crisis. Media has been one of the most dynamic sectors of Romanian economy since the early 90es, after the country has ditched communism in December 1989.

For many Romanian journalists and media organisations, the global economic crisis that started in the fall of 2008 has been a cold shower. The sharp decline in advertising revenue came at a moment when the media environment in Bucharest, if not in the entire country, seemed to be expanding on many levels.

In the last part of 2008, when the global economic downturn started to cast its shadow upon the Romanian economy, it was still a great time to be a journalist in Bucharest. There was a vast number of titles on the market. The quality of top newspapers had been increasing, with better print, more pages, more diverse coverage, supplements and Sunday editions. Yet readership had been constantly dwindling for most publications. More money than ever, both from investments and from advertising, was being pumped into the big media operations, as the country's economy was growing at a rapid pace.

Wages for journalists had steadily grown, too, in the past few years. And, since the number of good journalists was limited, while the number of media outlets seemed to be ever expanding, it was heaven for job seekers and hell for recruiters.

The financial and economic meltdown, of course, changed all this. Some company officials told reporters that advertising volume at the beginning of 2009 totalled just 20 or 30 percent from what media companies were getting in the same period of the previous year. Media groups that had been expanding in a frenzy started to halt investments, chop wages, and/or get rid of some of the work force. Some publications closed, others printed fewer pages. A few titles changed their periodicity, going from weekly to bi-weekly, for example. In certain TV stations, entire editorial departments disappeared. Advertising agencies and production houses specialising in commercials also suffer.

However, the sharp decrease in advertising revenue is not the only reason for the crisis affecting the media industry in Romania. As a matter of fact, the signs that something was not working quite right had been visible for a good while for the keen eye. Despite the increase in advertising fuelled by the growing economy, the advertising pie had actually been diminishing for the print media, which had also been hurt by dwindling audiences. The quality of content had also been getting weaker, critics pointed out, with publications trying to make up for lost readers by turning toward tabloidisation and sensationalism, and printing less investigations, in-depth stories and other relevant information. TV and radio were also losing public, as people doing better economically used them less for escapism. When people are better-off financially, they can afford more expensive means of distraction, such as going out in the evenings instead of watching television. An ever expanding segment of the population has also been spending more and more time on the Internet.

The fact that the media were not actually doing as well as some may have thought, became more visible when one looked at the landscape outside the capital city. Although Bucharest was far from being the only place were media outlets could be successful, most journalists still had much harder lives in other parts of the country. Besides a few notable exceptions, media outlets functioning outside the capital had generally been less potent, more vulnerable to pressure from business and political groups, and lacking in design, content, marketing and human resources quality, when compared to the best national publications and audiovisual networks. Journalists made less (sometimes much less) money than their colleagues from Bucharest, and were more prone to compromise their ethical and professional standards.

After the crisis hit, most of the above-mentioned problems remained and in many cases became more acute. Most Bucharest-based media operations, including those that seemed to be very solid, had also been shaken. However, media remains one of the most dynamic sectors in the Romanian economy, and, while some outlets are having a harder time than ever before, others seem to continue to thrive, and the public still has a wide range of choices when it comes to news and entertainment.

The print media environment is rich and diverse if judged by the number of titles on the market. There is no available comprehensive data on the concrete effects of the economic crisis over the media yet, but evidence suggests there haven't been massive closures.

The most recent available statistics from the National Institute of Statistics (NIS), compiles data from 2007 (“Activitatea unităților cultural-artistice” / “The Activity of the cultural and artistic units”, The National Institute of Statistics, 2008). According to NIS, in 2007 there were almost 300 publishers that published newspapers (159 dailies, plus newspapers appearing once or several times a week, and papers with no specific frequency), and over 350 publishers that published magazines.

The total yearly print run for dailies was 553.7 million, with an increase of almost 50 million, or 9.5 percent, compared to the previous year.

Non-dailies printed a total of more than 63.3 million copies, 25.5 million (or 67.5 percent) more than the previous year. The total yearly print run for weekly newspapers was over 58 million in 2007, more than twice that of 2006.

The statistics institute recorded 1,515 magazine titles on the market in 2007. That is 126 more titles than in the previous year. The statistics take into account periodicals other than newspapers, from those appearing several times a week, to those appearing a few times a year, once a year or even at larger intervals, to those with no specific periodicity.

Although there were no figures available for 2008 at the date of redaction, I estimate that the growing trend continued throughout 2008, an electoral year, when traditionally businessmen, politicians and various groups increase their investment in the media. That trend should have reversed once the global economic crisis hit, towards the end of 2008.

Just over 300 publications are audited by BRAT, the Romanian Audit Bureau of Circulation. Members of BRAT usually enjoy more credibility and more advertising, as print run and distribution figures are available for advertisers. Local newspapers audited by BRAT generally benefit from national ads, as the big advertisers looking to buy nationwide advertisements pay attention to the numbers.

As far as the publications distributed across the nation are concerned, the past few years have seen a decline in circulation for those dailies marketed as quality newspapers, whereas the two national sports dailies have done relatively well, and the tabloids even better.

One of the most important daily newspapers from the so-called quality segment, Evenimentul zilei, owned by the Switzerland-based group Ringier, distributed under 35,000 copies a day in June 2009, which means its circulation is half of what it was three years ago. Another big newspaper from the same category, Romania libera, owned by local businessman Dan Adamescu and the German group WAZ, sold 45,000 copies a day in June 2009, losing almost a third from what it distributed in the same month in 2006. Gandul, also a quality newspaper, belonging to the MediaPro group, halved its circulation in the same interval, from roughly 30,000 to about 15,000 copies distributed each day. Jurnalul National, the former market leader in the sector, owned by Romanian media group Intact, is also ddecreasing in circulation, although not as significantly as the above-mentioned newspapers; it sold around 66,000 copies a day in June 2009, compared to almost 74,000 the same month three years ago, but its sales tend to go up and down partly due to the frequent promotions that offer various prizes to the readers.

By comparison, Click, a tabloid launched by Adevarul Holding a couple of years ago, sells much more than all the above-mentioned titles combined. The bestselling Romanian newspaper at the moment, Click, distributed more than 236,000 copies daily in June 2009. Another tabloid put on the market recently, CanCan, sold about 80,000 copies a day in the same month, after it peaked at almost 120,000 in 2008.

When launched, Click was a perfect copy of the then market leader, Libertatea, belonging to the Swiss group Ringier. In fact, the team of journalists that started Click had been lured from Libertatea, in a move that left an entire newsroom almost empty. Ringier's tabloid sells around 200,000 copies a day, a regress compared to 2006 and 2007, when it distributed 250,000-300,000 copies every day.

The two national sports dailies also display slightly smaller distribution figures than in previous years, when each sold up to 100,000 copies a day. In the first six months of 2009, Gazeta Sporturilor, owned by Intact, sold, on average, 67,000 copies a day, while its competitor, ProSport, belonging to MediaPro, sold 45,000 copies each day. Attempts to create a third national newspaper specialised in sports have failed.

Except for the tabloid market, the only other category of national newspapers with an effervescent activity was the business daily press. With a small, but steady circulation, Ziarul Financiar, published by MediaPro, is arguably the most profitable newspaper in Romania, as it enjoyed an elite readership and a constant influx of ads from big companies. Apparently it pays to focus on business, as companies seem to give more attention and money to those newspapers that write about them, even though they don't have a very wide audience.

Two other media groups launched financial dailies in the past couple of years. Realitatea-Catavencu brought Business Standard to the market, while Intact started Financiarul. Although not as successful in terms of attracting advertisers, they managed to significantly increase the circulation of the business daily press in Romania, and to bite a chunk from Ziarul Financiar's audience. According tothe Romanian Audit Bureau of Circulation ( BRAT), Ziarul Financiar sells around 17,000 copies a day, Business Standard around 11,000, and Financiarul about 4,000.

In any case, 2008 and 2009 could be considered bad years, over all, for the national print publications, save for Adevarul Holding, the relatively new media group belonging to billionaire Dinu Patriciu. Most of the publications mentioned in the paragraphs above have been going through tough times, and the global crisis has made matters worse. Ringier laid off dozens of journalists from Evenimentul zilei. In an effort to cut costs and become more efficient, the newspaper shut down its regional editions. Romania libera took similar steps, while the journalists at Jurnalul National had to take a 20% cut of their wages. Realitatea-Catavencu's newspapers Cotidianul and Business Standard also imposed pay cuts, sometimes so drastic that some journalists had to leave to look for jobs allowing them to pay the bills.

Adevarul Holding is a different story. The wealthy owner of this relatively new media group has been investing millions of Euro in the past two years, and does not seem to back away. The group's flagship newspaper, Adevarul, which Dinu Patriciu acquired in 2006, when sales were at around 25,000 copies per day, is now the number one newspaper in the so-called quality category. It sold more than 110,000 copies a day, on average, in the first half of 2009, and more than 127,000 copies per day in June. At the same time, the group’s tabloid, Click, became the best selling newspaper in Romania.

Moreover, in October 2008 the group launched Adevarul de Seara, a late-afternoon free paper that became the largest daily newspaper in Romania considering the number of distributed copies. It has 32 local editions covering 50 cities and smaller towns, with a total print run of 550,000 copies a day.

All these newspapers operate at a loss, but Adevarul Holding says it will continue to invest.

The group expanded to Ukraine, where it owns the tabloid Blik, and plans to enter the print media market in other countries in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Although Adevarul de Seara seems to be an example that at least some publishers are willing and able to keep subsidising free newspapers in the hope of future gains, there is also evidence of the contrary. Ringier cancelled its own free newspaper, Compact, at the start of 2009, after less than three years since its launch. The newspaper was distributed only in the capital, Bucharest, with a print run of 160,000 copies a day. The only morning free paper distributed at the moment in the city is Ring, launched in 2008, which prints 100,000 copies a day. The newspaper is subsidised by a business group with strong interests in the real estate and hotel sectors.

Curentul, a newspaper focused on business, which switched to the free model a couple of years ago, does not have any audit figures since December 2008.

Austrian group Inform Media, which owns several local newspapers in cities from the region of Transylvania, closed down its free paper in Hunedoara three years after its launch.

Inform Media's written press operations in Transylvania now include three free dailies, five paid dailies (two of them in Hungarian), three free classified weeklies and two paid classified weeklies. Some of its free newspapers distribute more than 15,000 copies each day.

Unlike papers in Bucharest, local newspapers usually have not received any attention from big investors. That is one of the reasons why they are generally more vulnerable to pressure from local political and business circles, and from individuals who use the press to influence political/economic decisions and to win or keep public support. Among the chronic problems facing the local media are poor distribution networks and the lack of professional skills.

The global crisis and stiff competition from national newspapers have made the life of local publishers and journalists even harder. There are, however, successful local newspapers that strive to deliver quality products to their readers. Some of the largest local dailies are Gazeta de Sud in Craiova (24,000 copies a day, down from almost 30,000 a couple of years ago), Tribuna in Sibiu (15,000 copies a day), Ziarul in Iasi, Viata libera in Galati or Transilvania Expres in Brasov (all selling under 10,000 copies a day). Circulation for most of these newspapers has been in decline.

In 2009 a number of quite prominent local publications closed. The Agenda media company in Timisoara shut down the print version of its local daily, Agenda zilei, and is now focusing on the regional weekly Agenda, its daily news website and its printing business. Publimedia, the publishing branch of MediaPro, closed its chain of six local weeklies after it had already shut down its daily newspaper in Cluj.

One of the important players on the local press market, EMI, a German-based company that was acquired by Goldbach Media Group from Switzerland in 2008, decided to limit its activities in the print landscape in order to focus on new media. It exited from four local dailies, Monitorul de Alba, Monitorul de Sibiu, Monitorul de Medias and Monitorul de Cluj. It remains the main stakeholder of three newspapers it had acquired in recent years, Ziarul de Iasi, Viata libera from Galati and Obiectiv from Vaslui, and of Ziarul de Braila, which it launched in 2007. EMI's former strategy included plans to buy or start dozens of local newspapers in Romania, but Goldbach Media Group, the new owner, an advertising and marketing company specialising in new media, announced it was not interested in the print market. The company is now looking for solutions to get rid of its remaining newspapers.

Some of the bestselling weeklies are spin-offs of popular newspapers such as Libertatea or Click. Libertatea puts out a Sunday newspaper and a women's weekly, both selling more than 100,000 copies a week. Click does the same; its Sunday paper and its women's weekly each sell around 150,000 copies a week.

Femeia de azi, a women's weekly published by Sanoma Hearst, also sells more than 100,000 copies per issue. National TV guides are doing well, too; TV Mania (Ringier) and ProTV Magazin (MediaPro), for example, each sell around 75,000 copies a week.

There is fierce competition in the business weeklies segment. There are two The Economist-style weeklies distributed nationwide, Business Magazin (around 11,000 copies sold each week), belonging to the MediaPro group, and Money Express (6,000), published by the Realitatea-Catavencu group. There are also two tabloid economic weeklies, Saptamana financiara (around 33,000), published by Intact, and Ringier's Capital (around 20,000 copies sold each week).

The glossy and magazine market was booming prior to the crisis, with more than a dozen women's magazines, a few men's magazines, as well as publications dedicated to automobiles, computers, cooking, house and gardening and other niche products. There are many international franchises, including Elle, Esquire, Marie Claire, Men's Health, FHM, Playboy, GQ, Popcorn or Harper's Bazaar. The fall in advertising has forced some publications to fold or to change their frequency, but most major titles enjoy steady print runs and some magazines have even picked up in circulation.

One of the most popular is Practic in Bucatarie, a cooking magazine owned by Burda Romania, selling more than 250,000 copies a month.

However, not everybody believes in the future of the magazine business. The group Realitatea-Catavencu, publisher of the cult satirical weekly Academia Catavencu, announced in October 2009 that it would get rid of all the publications in its Lifestyle division: magazines Tabu (women's), Aventuri la pescuit (fishing), Bucataria pentru toti (cooking) and Super Bebe (parenting), plus 24 FUN, a free weekly leisure guide. Through a management buyout, all except one have been taken over by their managers, but Tabu is going to close if it does not find an investor.

The radio scene is dominated by private FM stations, with more than 700 licences for FM radio stations issued by the National Broadcasting Council by 2009.

Radio Romania, the public radio company, includes five national stations, an international station and a regional network of 12 stations. The national stations are Romania Actualitati (news), which is most popular in rural areas, Romania Cultural (culture and arts), Romania Muzical (music), Antena Satelor (farming and rural communities), and Radio 3 Net (a youth station broadcasting online). The radio company also includes the news agency Rador, a publishing house, a radio theatre production department, several orchestras and choirs.

No private non-FM stations are operating in Romania.

Most successful private stations belong to strong networks. There are two news & music radio networks with national coverage, both using a wide network of FM frequencies: Europa FM (owned by French group Lagardere) and Info Pro (CME).

The most popular private networks are Radio Zu (Intact), Radio 21 (Lagardere), ProFM (CME), Kiss FM (ProSiebenSat1). They are all advertising supported, and broadcast mainly musical hits and entertainment, plus short news bulletins.

There are about seven million households with TV sets in Romania. Television is still the most popular means of entertainment for Romanians, and it takes the lion share of the advertising pie (about two thirds) amounting to a total of 337 million euro in 2008. According to the Media Factbook 2009, the most popular TV shows among Romanians are football games, Romanian soap operas, prime time news, entertainment shows and international contests such as the Eurovision or big sporting events.

TV reaches most Romanians through cable networks that carry dozens of Romanian and international stations. The two main cable companies, sharing the market in almost equal chunks, are RCS&RDS and UPC.

However, analogue cable is in a slight decrease mainly due to the advancement of Direct to Home (DTH), which has increased by more than 50% since 2007, according to the Media Factbook 2009.

Reception via analogue cable is at 66.8 percent, DTH takes 22.6 percent, terrestrial accounts for 8.3 percent, while 3.8 percent get their TV through digital cable with receiver (source: GfK Romania, cited by the Media Factbook 2009).

Both major cable operators offer digital reception through their own companies. Among the major players on the market is the national phone company Romtelecom, with its Dolce service, as well as a couple of other companies.

Almost 50 TV stations distributed nationwide are registered under the National Study of TV Audience, including general audience and specialised channels. There are also numerous local stations.

Among the most popular national channels are commercial stations ProTV (CME), Antena 1 (Intact), Acasa TV (CME), Realitatea TV (Realitatea-Catavencu), Prima TV (ProSiebenSat1), as well as public channel TVR 1. They are also the channels getting most of the advertising, accounting for about 60 percent of the total GRPs sold, according to the Media Factbook.

In the past few years niche stations have started to bite into the audience of general-interest channels. On occasion, especially during important events such as a government crisis or election days, 24-hour news television can even gather the greatest number of viewers. There is a fierce competition between the two largest all-news TV stations, Realitatea TV (Realitatea-Catavencu) and Antena 3 (Intact). Sports channels have also grown more popular – and more numerous (at least seven are available to subscribers nationwide). There are also channels specialising in music, documentaries, women’s interests, cartoons, films and reality shows.

Big local and international groups own some of the most successful TV and radio stations in Romania, such as the American-based CME (owner of MediaPro International), Romanian companies Intact and Realitatea-Catavencu, the German group ProSiebenSat1. The Turkish group Dogan has also started a big investment program in 2007, although its channel Kanal D is presently trailing behind more successful stations.

The public television has five national channels (TVR 1, TVR 2, TVR 3, TVR Cultural, TVR Info), an international channel (TVRi) and regional stations based in Timisoara, Cluj, Targu Mures, Craiova and Iasi. There is also an experimental channel called TVR HD, launched in 2008. The first HD broadcasts were from Euro 2008. The other new additions to the lot are TVR 3, specialising in broadcasts about regional communities, and TVR Info, with utility information and live traffic updates.

The public television has come under criticism over the years for two main reasons: it is still politically controlled, with its president and administrative council named on political criteria; and it enjoys a hybrid 3-way financing system, which means it gets money from the state budget, from a special TV tax, and also from advertising. The Parliament has come under a lot of pressure from the civil society to de-politicise public television, but it has not yet done so.

Young Romanian filmmakers have received international recognition in the last several years, with their films winning important awards, including a top prize at the Cannes festival. However, cinema is one of the least popular forms of entertainment. More than one hundred cinema theatres have closed down since 1989. There are entire cities and even counties without any cinema theatre. Romania has the lowest number of cinema goers in Europe.

There were 75 active cinemas in 2008, compared to 155 in 2004. The majority of them, that is 41 cinemas, belong to public company Romaniafilm, but they are mostly outdated, and the company only ranked fourth in terms of gross box office in 2008.

However, the number of total seats in Romanian cinemas, now at 47,000, is slowly increasing due to the opening of multiplex-style cinemas, especially in malls. Gross box office has also increased to more than 53 million lei in 2008 (roughly 12.3 million euro at October 2009 conversion rates), compared to less than 25 million (5.8 million euro) in 2004 and 34 million (8 million euro) in 2007.

The most successful cinemas are multiplexes operating in malls: Hollywood Multiplex (which is part of the CME group), Movieplex Cinema, and Cinema City Romania (belonging to Israel-based Cinema City International, the largest multiplex operator in Central and Eastern Europe and Israel). The latter plans to reach 15 multiplexes in a number of important cities, over a time period of five years.

Other companies also plan to open new cinemas, especially in connection with malls, which prompts Initiative Media to estimate that the cinema industry will slowly grow. To appeal to movie goers, some companies already employ new technologies such as 3D and 6D. The first IMAX in the country is scheduled to open at the end of 2009.

Romanian movies attracted only 3.6 percent of admissions in 2008 (down from 5 percent in 2004). More than 85 percent of admissions were for American blockbusters. European films have become more popular in the past years (10.2 percent in 2008, compared to 6 percent in 2004).

The telecom market has steadily increased over the last six years, to a value of 4.2 billion euro in 2008 (from 3.91 in 2007 and 1.96 in 2003), and mobile telephony was the main drive behind this growth, according to a Romanian Telecom Market Overview by Roland Berger Strategy Consultants.

Mobile telephony accounted for two thirds (66 percent) of the market in 2008, followed by fixed telephony (18 percent), and Internet and other data transmission services (16 percent).

According to experts, traditional voice services face growing competition from alternative services such as Voice over IP (VoIP). Prices have come down and the main provider, Romtelecom, the former state-owned monopoly, has to operate on the same market with other companies offering voice services since the deregulation of the voice market in 2003. Deregulation started to generate effects in 2005, when Romtelecom has started to lose lines to competitors. Owned by Greek company OTE, with the Romanian state a minority shareholder, Romtelecom now covers about 69 percent of the total number of fixed lines, or about 2.97 million lines as of September 2007 (losing one million since 2005).

Technically, though, Romtelecom has brought significant improvement to its network. Its fiber-optical network now spreads over 32,000 km, according to Roland Berger. The company plans to invest 500 million euro in a next generation network (NGN) allowing for integrated telecom services (voice, data and VPN, Internet and video). In the past three years it has already invested about 300 million in its infrastructure. Romtelecom now offers many households not only fixed telephony (digitized nationwide since 2007), but also digital television (through its Dolce brand) and high-speed Internet through ADSL (Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line) connections. Romtelecom and its sister company Cosmote also offer integrated fixed and mobile telephony services.

There is a total of 55 companies operating on the fixed telephony market as of mid-2008, most offering both national and international call services, according to the Romanian Telecom Market Overview by Roland Berger Strategy Consultants. More than 70 companies signed interconnection agreements with Romtelecom, but experts say only a few would have the resources and know-how to compete with Romtelecom at a significant level.

The largest CaTV company, RCS&RDS, is now the leading competitor to Romtelecom in the fixed telephony market. Its landline telephony service rds.TEL had about 1.1 million subscribers in July 2008.

The other big player in the CaTV market and also one of the largest ISPs, UPC Romania, also offers voice services in addition to TV cable, data and Internet. In November 2008, its fixed telephony service using VoIP reached 120,600 subscribers.

Radiocom (formerly SNR), the national radio communications company, is also offering VoIP telephony, and is working with the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology to implement the PLC (Power Line Communication) technology in remote rural locations.

New Com Telecomunicatii, Atlas Telecom, Eufonika (a brand of Combridge, which is the local branch of Deutsche Telekom-owned Magyar Telecom) are also indicated as important players in the market.

Three mobile phone companies, Vodafone, Orange and Zapp, are also offering fixed telephony services. Roland Berger appreciates that they target mostly households in rural and suburban areas with no access to wired networks.

One of the important regulatory decisions in the fixed and mobile phone market, bound to increase competition even further, is the portability of phone numbers. Starting October 2008, customers are able to switch from one provider to another and keep their phone number.

Romtelecom also faces growing competition in the carrier services market, where companies such as Telecomunicatii CFR, Teletrans, Radiocom and RCS&RDS having made significant investments in infrastructure.

The main players in the mobile telephony market are Orange and Vodafone (both among the most profitable operators in Europe), followed by Cosmote and Zapp (now belonging to the Saudi Oger group). The total number of customers was 27.2 million in 2008, up from 22.9 million the previous year. The figures include prepaid services, which do not require a subscription contract. Many Romanians own more than one mobile line, in order to minimise the cost of calling friends and family who have subscriptions to different providers.

The penetration rate of mobile telephony exceeded 100 percent in 2007 and reached 126 percent in 2008.

According to the Media Factbook 2009, in Romania the number of mobile phones has surpassed TVs by 11 to 1, computers by 4 to 1, and fixed Internet by 6 to 1.

SMS and MMS have become one of the most popular forms of communication. On average, a Romanian mobile-phone user sends one message every two days. These types of messages have also become an important advertising support.

For a while, Zapp had been the leading provider of mobile data and Internet services. However, especially after acquiring 3G licenses, giants Orange and Vodafone moved to offering comprehensive wireless packages.

RCS&RDS is a new player on the market, having launched its 3G voice service in 2007. The company is at present the only one offering the 4 Play  package (TV, Internet, fixed telephony and mobile telephony). Its mobile phone brand, DigiMobil, has reached 1.2 million customers in the third quarter of 2008.

Romtelecom entered the mobile market in 2008 (although its sister company Cosmote was already a player). It is now building up its CDMA network, which will allow it to offer not only mobile telephony, but also push-to-talk and mobile internet services. Its mobile communication services are already available in a small area in Western Romania. The company said it would focus on mobile Internet services.

The mobile Internet growth has prompted many publishers to launch mobile versions of their publications.

Hotspots have also grown, from 760 in 2007, to 950 in December 2008, according to the Media Factbook 2009. However, most of them are located in the capital, Bucharest.

In March 2009, Romania was ranked among the top 10 countries in Europe (on 10th place) for the number of Internet users, with 7.4 million users, according to InternetWorldStats.com. However, in terms of Internet penetration, Romania was among the last countries on the continent, with 33.4 percent.

Much of this is due to the digital divide between cities and rural areas, where almost half of the country’s population lives.

In the market of Internet and data service providers the competition is stiff. There were 1,200 active ISPs by the end of the third quarter of 2008, according to Roland Berger Strategy Consultants. With mobile operators and TV cable operators both venturing in new fields, users are targeted by attractive triple play offers – Internet, voice and cable TV from companies like UPC or RCS&RDS, or mobile telephony, fixed phones and broadband from Vodafone, Orange or Zapp.

As was the case with cable TV, the growth of high-speed Internet connection has been somewhat helped by communist-style urban planning. In the architecture of the big cities, entire neighbourhoods are occupied by apartment buildings several stories high, placed in close proximity, which makes it very easy to wire a big number of households with relatively low costs and effort. This is how a plethora of small companies started to offer cable services in the early 1990s, before being swallowed by bigger and bigger players. A similar process has taken place with Internet connections. Families started to get Internet via the coaxial cable initially installed for TV, but also through UTP/FTP “neighbourhood networks”, which have in turn started to become part of larger and larger networks.

These networks offer high speed Internet, and have contributed to a high rate of piracy. For example, users are able to download movies through software like DC++ and torrents sites in a matter of minutes.

According to figures from the Roland Berger report on the telecoms industry, 3,730 of the total number of 6,300 Internet connections recorded in 2008 were broadband. Broadband connections first became more numerous than narrowband connections in 2006.

With an ever-growing Internet population, Romanian online media have been among the few media segments with a constant positive trend. According to a study from Biroul de Cercetari Sociale (BCS -- Social Research Bureau), almost 46 percent of Romanians above 16 years of age are active users (while Eurostat says it is 36 percent). The BCS study found that Romanian users spend on average three hours on the Net, and that their main activity online is e-mail, followed by accessing news. 

Their main sources of information are the websites of the big newspapers, according to the study.

Indeed, web stats service Sati.ro lists such sites among the most popular. Websites like Cancan.ro and Libertatea.ro (belonging to the tabloids CanCan and Libertatea) are at the top of the charts, with well over 200,000 unique visitors a day, while other newspapers’ websites also have very solid audiences. Gazeta Sporturilor’s has close to 200,000 unique visitors a day, the other big sports newspaper, ProSport, brings over 130,000 unique visitors a day to its website Prosport.ro, while Click and Evenimentul zilei each are accessed by more than 100,000 unique visitors every day.

Other popular news sites are HotNews.ro (a Web-only operation), with more than 100,000 unique visitors a day, Realitatea.net (which is connected to Realitatea TV), with 155,000, sport.ro (connected to the Sport.ro television station of the CME group), also with 155,000 unique visitors every day, or Stirileprotv.ro (an online news service offering content from ProTV’s news shows, also belonging to CME), with more than 115,000 unique visitors daily. These traffic figures were recorded at the end of October 2009, but they may vary greatly from month to month, or even from day to day.

Other successful journalistic websites include niche publications for women, parenting, business, auto, cinema, computer games etc.

All these websites, including those connected to traditional media operations like newspapers, have their own teams of journalists. Some web-only publications such as HotNews employ dozens of journalists, their newsrooms being more populated than those of some traditional news outlets. Gazeta Sporturilors online team is the most numerous department of the newspaper.

A few media companies have activities only in the new media segment. Internet Corp and iMedia are two examples. Both companies have successful sites dedicated to news, leisure, women’s interests, the auto market etc.

Most of the big players in the traditional media segment have also recently created special departments or companies dedicated to online and digital media.

Social media websites seem to be the most popular among Romanian Internet users. According to some estimates, social networking site Hi5.com has more than three million users in Romania, while Facebook had almost 400,000 in October 2009. Trilulilu.ro, a video-sharing site modelled after YouTube, is also at the top, with more than 2.2 million unique visitors in September 2009. Softpedia.com, an international website belonging to Romanian company SoftNews Net, attracted 2.1 million users from Romania on its forum in the same month. Another popular website is ejobs.ro.

Blogs have become one of the most popular means of expression in the past few years. However, very few of them attract significant audiences of at least thousands of users. According to a study by BCS published in September 2009, the impact of blogs is quite small, especially when compared to news sites. Most Internet users cannot name famous bloggers, and when they do, they usually give the names of TV stars who have also opened their own blogs.

The online medium has started to receive more attention from publishers around 2005, when advertising figures for the Internet and for mobiles began to grow. In 2008, the online advertising revenue was still only three percent of the total money invested in advertising, but it made for a 70 percent growth compared to the previous year, according to the Media Factbook. Close to 16 million euro went into Internet advertising in 2008, compared to under nine million in 2007. Initiative estimates that online ad spend will have decreased 15-20 percent in 2009, although the sector proved to be the least affected by the economic crisis.

The news agency market is dominated by Mediafax, a private news agency founded in 1991, within the MediaPro group. Mediafax is a main provider of news and information for media and for other business sectors. It produces general news, but also specialised information in a number of areas, financial information services, photos, sound bites, media monitoring services and other services and products. It delivers around 600 news pieces a day. In 2008, it entered the Czech market, where it has challenged the monopoly of the state agency CTK.

The state news agency recently went back to its pre-1990 name, Agerpres, after almost two decades when it was known as Rompres. The agency traces its origins back to 1889, when the first national Romanian press agency was founded. At the time, Agentia Telegrafica a Romaniei, or Agentia Romana (The Romanian Agency) was subordinated to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its role was to wire news about Romania abroad, and to distribute international news to the Romanian public. The service was discontinued in 1916. Its activity was continued by the Orient-Radio Agency, established in 1921. It later became known as RADOR. In 1949, the communist regime founded Agerpres, which inherited the personnel and assets of RADOR.

The name RADOR survives today – it is the news service of the national public radio.

Agerpres’s services and products include over 300 news items and 200 photos delivered on a daily basis, audio features, several publications, as well as a comprehensive archive. It is affiliated with the European Alliance of News Agencies.

The newest national agency is NewsIn, launched in 2006 by the Realitatea-Catavencu group. It produces news for the media market, and it offers professional services for companies, with a focus on energy, IT&C and the financial and banking sector. It also offers a press photo feed, and English feed, and video news for TVs and websites. Its output is estimated at around 300 news pieces and 70 photos, on average, a day. The agency intends to focus more on services for companies, rather than news for journalism outlets.

There are also several smaller agencies.

International wire services Reuters, AP and France Presse all have local bureaus in Bucharest. Other foreign agencies, like Bloomberg, have permanent correspondents.

MediaSind, a federation of trade unions, is the largest of such organisations. It claims around 9,000 members, of which 7,500 are journalists. The others represent various categories of employees within the media industry, such as typographers, administrative and technical personnel. However, there is an estimated 30,000 journalists in Romania, and most are unaffiliated.

MediaSind has been active in negotiating a collective labour contract with the employers’ organisations. The collective contract is binding for the entire profession (regardless whether the journalists are union members or not), and contains guarantees regarding paid overtime, holidays, minimum wage, or the clause of conscience. But in many instances these provisions remain just words on paper. The union did, however, get successfully involved in several cases when journalists had been fired without being given financial compensation, or had been mistreated by their employers. Usually, the organisation offers legal assistance to any journalist who has trouble with his or her employer.

There are several journalists’ associations, but none of them is representative for the whole profession. One of the most visible at the moment is The Association of Journalists in Romania, with around 70 members, most of them prominent journalists based in Bucharest.

The Romanian Press Club is an organisation controlled by the owners or managers of important media outlets. During the years, it has acted to represent the interests of the media organisations rather than those of the journalists.

Some of the most important local publishers are grouped under The Ownership Association of Local Publishers (APEL).

Two dozen NGOs with programmes in the media sector are active in an umbrella organisation called the Convention of Media Organisations (Conventia Organizatiilor de Media COM). They have regular meetings every few months to one year to discuss ways to improve the quality of journalism and to protect people in the media from political and economic pressure.

The main engines behind COM are the Center for Independent Journalism, a training organisation that is also active in various media related activities, and ActiveWatchThe Media Monitoring Agency. Both organisations have been involved in advocacy activities on behalf of journalists, and have run numerous projects to benefit media outlets, their employees and their public.

There is no functional press law as such in Romania. A press law was adopted in communist Romania in 1974, and it was never fully abrogated, but nobody cares about it.

The media are, however, regulated through a series of laws. The most important among them is, of course, the Constitution. It guarantees freedom of expression and prohibits any form of censorship. It also states that, “Freedom of the press also involves the free setting up of publications,” and that, “No publication shall be suppressed.” The Constitution guarantees the right to information and contains a few other paragraphs about the media, including one stating that public radio and TV should be autonomous.

A significant piece of legislation is the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Interest, adopted in 2001. Public institutions are required to release information of public interest to the public, ex officio or by request. The law contains a special chapter granting special privileges to journalists, who can obtain information faster than the general public. Public institutions are required to create special departments to handle the relations with the media.

Other laws regulate the activity of public television and radio, the audiovisual landscape, the functioning of the national press agency.

A host of other laws also have effect on the media. Among them, the penal and civil codes, the law on classified information, the law on national security, the laws on the functioning of secret services, police, the Defence Ministry etc.

Over the years there have been several attempts to forge a law especially dedicated to the press. Through their representative voices and organisations, journalists generally opposed such initiatives arguing that a press law would rather impose restrictions than grant freedoms.

However, a new study carried by CIJ, ActiveWatch and IMAS (The Institute for Marketing and Polls) and published in October 2009, found that 70 percent of journalists say a press law would improve the quality of Romanian journalism. Only 35 percent say such a law would limit press freedom. Looking at other findings of the study, one could draw the conclusion that such an apparent shift of opinion is due to the awareness that the standards in the profession are low and that journalists are not protected from outer and inner pressures.

According to the study, half of the Romanian journalists do not know any ethics code, most journalists say professional norms are not observed in newsrooms, and 60 percent of them blame political pressure for this fact. Moreover, 31 percent admit they are involved in bringing advertising to their company, 43 percent say it is hard or very hard to verify a piece of information from several independent sources, 33 percent that it is very hard to present all the diverging views when reporting a story, and 17 percent say that certain stories are forbidden in their newsrooms.

At least in theory, though, there have been organisations and professional documents ensuring accountability. The Romanian Press Club has its own ethics code and a so-called Council of Honour whose role is to penalise journalists or media outlets that break the professional norms. However, critics argue that journalists working for the media outlets represented in the Club do not know or do not have to observe the ethics code, and that the decisions of the Council of Honour have been seldom and arbitrary.

The members of the Convention of Media Organisations (COM) had also adopted their own deontological code. The Convention, the Center for Independent Journalism and ActiveWatch-The Media Monitoring Agency have issued public condemnations in cases of media companies and journalists departing from the rules of good reporting.

But there has not been any comprehensive system of accountability agreed upon by the entire profession, or at least by a significant part of it.

In this respect, the organisations within the COM have been working together to come up with self-regulating practices and documents that would make the Romanian media more accountable. It would be preferable, leading media organisations argued, that the media regulate themselves, rather than give the authorities reason to impose a press law.

In October 2009, the COM, together with the MediaSind trade union and the Association of Journalists in Romania, made public a new ethics code dubbed “The Unique Code”, as it is meant to be adopted by the entire profession. They also announced plans to create the Group for Good Journalistic Practices, formed of representatives from all media outlets that adopt the unique ethics code. Media outlets observing the code would be able to apply for a Certificate of Good Journalistic Practices, which could be issued for the entire organisation or for a certain section, such as a supplement or a regular news show.

However, the Romanian Press Club has already announced its members won’t adopt the new code, as they already observe their own.

For the audiovisual, the role of watchdog resides with the National Broadcasting Council (Consiliul National al Audiovizualului), which issues warnings and fines when its members consider that the law of the audiovisual or the regulations issued to ensure fairness and accuracy have been broken. Quite often, radio and TV stations are forced to pay fines and to display public acknowledgements for foul play, especially for promoting indecent language and behaviour during daytime broadcasts.

There is no special regulatory authority for the print and online media. The two chambers of the parliament do have commissions for culture and mass media, but they are unable to control the way journalism is being practiced.

The National Broadcasting Council (Consiliul National al Audiovizualului – CNA) is by law the guardian of public interest and the sole regulating authority in the Romanian audiovisual landscape. It enforces the Law of the Audiovisual and all the decisions and regulations it issues, such as the Code of Regulations for the Broadcasting Content, which includes rules regarding child protection, fairness, the right of reply, advertising practices, pluralism of ideas etc. The Council also issues recommendations and instructions.

It is an autonomous public institution placed under parliamentary control and served by 11 members appointed for six-year terms. Each of the two chambers of parliament appoints three members, the president of Romania appoints two members, and the government appoints three members. All appointees have to be confirmed by the parliament.

ANCOM – The National Authority for Communications sets the rules for the communications market and enforces them.

The film industry is supervised by the National Cinematography Centre (Centrul National al Cinematografiei – CNC), which among other things organises competitions to finance film projects. CNC is part of the Ministry of Culture.

The number of journalism schools around the country reflects the great number of media outlets in Romania. There are several types of journalism training and courses in place in the country: academic schools (self-standing departments or journalism sections or classes integrated in other departments, such as Literature, Social Sciences or Philosophy); vocational schools such as independent training centres; on the job training; project-based training (shorter programmes devised by various non-governmental organisations, usually with funding from European and international institutions such as the European Union or the UN).

There are journalism schools and departments within most of the main universities in the country. Some of the best known and most prestigious are the schools form the University of Bucharest, University of Iasi, West University and “Tibiscus” University in Timisoara, Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj.

Organisations like the Center for Independent Journalism and StartMedia offer vocational training to students and journalists. Thanks to a project carried out by StartMedia and Dutch organisation FreeVoice, with assistance from the CIJ, a number of local publications were able to develop their own codes of conduct and style guides. A manual on how to create a style book is available for download on the StartMedia website.

One of the important developments in the past 10 or 15 years was the creation of journalism books and manuals in Romanian – either translations from international languages, or books written by Romanian authors. Among the book publishers most active in promoting journalism books was Polirom, with its “Media” collection, coordinated by Mihai Coman, Dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication Studies within the University of Bucharest.

Most Romanian media outlets do not have especially designed on-the-job training or training departments. Newcomers to the newsroom are usually coached by their more experienced colleagues and supervisors, and are generally expected to learn the craft by doing the job. Local publishers grouped in the APEL organizations sometimes commission trainers for short training sessions for their journalists. Sometimes individual news organizations organize trainings for their staff, but this is still a seldom practice among Romanian media companies.

The studies published in the academic journal Jurnalism & Comunicare are useful in understanding the media phenomenon in Romania.

 For information on legislation, self-regulation, ethics and the general situation of the profession, the sites of the Center for Independent Journalism and ActiveWatch - The Media Monitoring Agency are very rich in resources.

The site of the National Broadcasting Council contains information on the audiovisual legislation and offers a comprehensive view of the licensed radio and TV stations in Romania.

Brat.ro, the site of the Romanian Audit Bureau of Circulation, offers print run and sales figures for hundreds of publications. Sna.ro presents the National Readership Survey, while sati.ro and trafic.ro offer Internet traffic statistics.

The Barometer of Cultural Consumption, an annual study published by the Center for Cultural Studies and Research, is focused on the Romanians’ consumer habits in relation to cultural products, including newspapers, TV, books, movies etc.

Initiative Media Romania publishes each year the Media Factbook, a comprehensive analysis of the media market putting together data from various research and measurement companies and organisations, as well as other sources. The PDF document containing the 2009 report in English can be downloaded at this address.

A Romanian Telecom Market Overview by Ionut Pascu of Roland Berger Strategy Consultants can be found on the Romanian Business Digest website

At a national level, the media market is dominated by several groups, which have been consolidating over the years: CME and MediaPro (the latter being owned by the CEO of the former; CME is also a minority shareholder in MediaPro), Intact, Ringier, Realitatea-Catavencu and Adevarul Holding.

There are several other smaller groups, active in the glossy market and in the Internet-only publishing business.

The global crisis has affected most of these businesses, especially hurt by the sharp decline in advertising revenue. The only major media group that has continued to invest and has avoided layoffs or closures is Adevarul Holding.

MediaSind estimates that 1,300-1,500 people from the media industry would have lost their jobs by the end of 2009, from a total of 22,000-25,000 employees.

According to the National Statistics Institute, 3,900 people lost their jobs from November 2008 till September 2009 in the publishing, cinema, video & TV production and broadcasting industries, out of 42,700 employees.

Union leaders warn that there could be more layoffs in the first months of 2010, as a number of publications, radio and TV stations subsidised for electoral reasons could shut down after the presidential elections to be held in November 2009.

Initiative estimated the media market would drop 35/38 percent in 2009 compared to 2008, and that things would not improve until 2011. Even the Internet, which is not suffering as much as other media, should shrink 20 percent in 2009 from 2008.

Most probably, print will continue to decline, since the effects of the global economic crisis combine with the lack of journalistic and managerial vision and know-how. In other words, journalism is hurt not only by the economic conditions, but also by its own lack of quality.

Radio and TV are much better positioned than print, but will continue to suffer for the same reasons.

Media companies seem to look at new media, especially the Internet and mobile communications, as the promising future. Many players have invested in their online operations, in the hope that more and more of the advertising pie will go to the Internet. While it laid off dozens of journalists from its flagship publications, and it cancelled some of its print products, Ringier was on a hiring frenzy for its Internet operations. It expanded the online teams for its main sites and it launched a new women’s portal in October 2009.

In the local media we might start to see more cooperation between publications that do not compete in the same geographical area. Pooling resources together might be one way to remain on the market.

Although one of the most important local media groups is pulling off, other companies might seize the opportunity to expand on the Romanian local market, possibly taking advantage of the fact that the crisis has weakened some media outlets. If this happens, we might witness a process of consolidation through mergers and acquisitions in the next few years.

Some predict that subsidised local media outlets that are being kept alive to serve various political and economic interests might shut down, hopefully making more room for those players adopting a healthier business model. But without the political will to put a stop to corruption, major changes are unlikely in this respect.

  • Autoreglementarea Presei in Romania (Press Self-reglementation in Romania), cercetare cantitativa (quantitative research), CJI, ActiveWatch, IMAS, October 2009. Web location at 10.29.2009 (PDF)
  • Barometrul de Consum Cultural 2007 (The Barometer of Cultural Consumption), Centrul de Studii si Cercetari in Domeniul Culturii
  • Activitatea unităților cultural-artistice (The Activity of Cultural-Artistic Units), Institutul National de Statistica, 2008
  • Media Factbook Romania 2009, by Initiative Media. Web location at 10.29.2009 (PDF)
  • Romanian Telecom Market Overview, Ionut Pascu, Roland Berger Strategy Consultants. Web location at 10.29.2009

Alexandru-Bradut Ulmanu
Adjunct professor
School of Journalism and Mass Communication Studies, University of Bucharest
Journalism Trainer and Consultant
StartMedia, FJSC, 1-3 Iuliu Maniu Blvd, 6th Floor, Sector 6, Bucharest, Romania
Tel. + 1 919 381 7540
Email: bradutz@jurnalismonline.ro
Website