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Media moves

By Jyrki Jyrkiäinen, August 2004/updated August 2008

Photo: Pentti Hokkanen / © Digita Oy
Digita's network management centre in Helsinki. Digita is a leading Finnish distributor of radio and television services.

Finland's population of 5.3 million is served by a multitude of newspapers, magazines, radio stations and TV channels, and the internet is challenging traditional media on all fronts.

The first newspaper in Finland was published in Swedish by the learned Aurora Society in Turku starting in 1771 and became the chief source of foreign and domestic news by the 1790s. It was published for over 90 years and was the official organ of the national government when Finland gained autonomous status as a Grand Duchy of Russia.

The first Finnish-language newspaper in Finland was the educational Suomenkieliset Tieto-Sanomat, started by Antti Lizelius in 1775. Finnish-language newspapers have been published regularly since 1844.

Media eras

In a nutshell, Finland has experienced four distinct media eras are since the 1950s: from 1950 to 1957 a continuation of the era of print and universal, educational and cultural public radio, from 1957 to 1970 an era of public television and popular public radio, from 1970 to 1985 an era of media commercialisation, and from 1985 to 2000 an era of media businesses.

These eras resulted from economic, social and policy changes. Press structure was affected by urbanisation, industrialisation and southward migration within the country. Commercial broadcasting was promoted by the decreasing role of the state in the economy when general policies began to support a market-based economy. In addition, the lack of resources for public broadcasting to provide additional broadcast services in radio and television accelerated commercial broadcasting.

In the 2000s, the internet has increasingly influenced traditional media such as newspapers, magazines, books, cinema, radio, television and recorded media, shaking up the established positions, functions and interdependence. According to official statistics, Finnish households expended an average of 150 euros on internet costs in 2006, as opposed to 43 euros in 2001.

Wide newspaper readership

© Alma Media
Click to enlarge the picture
Finns are avid newspaper readers.

Like the other Nordic nations, the Finns have long been avid newspaper readers. They rank first in the EU and third in the world, after Japan and Norway, with 515 copies sold per 1,000 inhabitants in 2006. Economic statistics lend support to this image: newspapers' shares of mass media turnover (31 percent) and advertising revenue (52 percent) remain very high. Eighty-seven percent of the population over 12 years old reads a newspaper every day.

A total of 200 newspaper titles were published in 2007 with total circulation of 3.1 million copies. Of these, 53 appear four to seven times a week, whilst 32 are published daily, more than in any other Nordic country.

Subscriptions by snowmobile

The Finnish newspaper market is 88 percent subscription-based and only 12 percent newsstand sales. Seventy-eight percent of newspapers are delivered to subscribers before 6:30 am. Night after night, some 7,000 people deliver newspapers to subscribers' doors or mailboxes, moving by car, snowmobile, boat, bicycle, motorbike, kick-sled or on foot.

On average, Finns read newspapers for 36 minutes each day. Newspaper reading has increased slightly in the youngest age groups (between 12 and 24) according to a 2008 survey. Printed newspaper readership seems to have increased a bit, which is noteworthy because at the same time young people are reading more online newspapers.

In 2006, mass media in Finland had a turnover of more than four billion euros. Out of that figure, graphic communications (newspapers, magazines, books and printed advertising) accounted for about 70 percent, while electronic media (television, radio, internet) accounted for about 23 percent and recorded material (music, CD-ROMs, DVDs) for the remaining 7 percent. In the entertainment industry the console and game industry have exceeded the recording industry and cinema admissions.

Two major rivals

© Alma Media
Click to enlarge the picture
Aamulehti, the second-largest Finnish newspaper by circulation, rolls through the presses.

Sanoma Group publishes the two biggest newspapers in Finland: Helsingin Sanomat (circulation 420,000) and the tabloid Ilta-Sanomat (177,000). These two account for nearly 27 percent of total daily circulation.

Sanoma Group moved into a new phase of internationalisation when it acquired VNU’s consumer magazine group in the Netherlands in 2001. Thanks to this acquisition, the company became a media operator on the European stage. The current Sanoma Magazines publishes in 2008 some 230 magazine titles in 13 countries and is among the top five magazine publishers in Europe.

In all, Sanoma Group has operations in 16 European countries including magazines, books, newsstands, distributors, bookstores, cinemas and restaurants. The shift to the internet era is symbolised by the business paper Taloussanomat. Founded as a print publication in 1997, it has been operating solely on an internet since the beginning of 2008, with great success.

Alma Media, the second-biggest newspaper publisher, runs five seven-day regional dailies. Its publications include Aamulehti (circulation 139,000, founded in 1881) in Tampere, the business paper Kauppalehti (81,000) and the tabloid Iltalehti (131,000).

Since the 1980s the big newspaper publishing houses have diversified and expanded into electronic media, mobile web services, digital interactive media and multimedia products, becoming true multimedia corporations.

Magazines diversify

© Alma Media
Click to enlarge the picture
Three of Finland's most popular magazines: Tietokone (about computers), Anna (women's magazine) and Suomen Kuvalehti (weekly news).

In the Finnish media economy, magazines represent the second-largest group after newspapers by sales volume, accounting for 18 percent of the mass media market in 2007. There are about 3,500 magazines and periodicals, about 60 of which appear once a week. The annual volume of periodicals (total circulation multiplied by issues per year) came to 385 million in 2006. Some 87 percent of consumer magazine sales are based on subscriptions, one of the highest percentages in the Europe. In all, newsstand sales account for 21 million copies of Finnish magazines and some three million foreign magazines.

There is only one general-interest news weekly, Suomen Kuvalehti (circulation 102,000), published by United Magazines. The biggest magazine in terms of circulation is the weekly Donald Duck comic book (321,000), published by Sanoma Magazines. It has received a prize from the Finnish teachers' association for its high-quality Finnish.

Public television

The Finnish Broadcasting Company YLE is the second-largest media company in turnover after Sanoma Group. It is a public-service limited company owned by the state, with four national TV channels and twenty Finnish-language and five Swedish-language regional radio channels. In addition, YLE has one Sámi-language station in Lapland which is now accessible everywhere via the YLE Areena webpage.

The Act on Yleisradio prohibits radio and TV advertising on YLE's channels. YLE’s operations are financed mainly by licence fees. In 2009 a TV licence cost 216 euros per year, less than 60 cents a day, which is the least expensive television fee in the Nordic countries.

Fully digital

Photo: Helifoto / © Digita
Click to enlarge the picture
Turku radio and TV mast in southwestern Finland

The first digital TV broadcasts began in Finland in 2001. The country was among the first to digitalise its TV broadcast network. The whole country had switched over to digital TV by September 2007.

National TV programmes are broadcast on four free channels, three of which are in domestic ownership. Each of them has its own news broadcasts. Two of the nationwide channels are public (YLE TV1 and YLE TV2), while the other two are commercial (MTV3 Finland and Channel Four).

Daily TV viewing time for people more than ten years old averaged two hours and 46 minutes in 2007. This makes watching television the most popular hobby in Finland in terms of time use. Daily viewing time has increased by 29 minutes since 1994. Traditionally, foreign programmes are subtitled (not dubbed) in Finnish or Swedish.

Finnish Independence Day celebrations on December 6 form the permanent magnet for TV audiences, topping 1.9 million viewers in 2007. The next most popular TV programme was the final of the Eurovision Song Contest. The Olympic Games and the Ice Hockey World Championships are the only other broadcasts that attract audiences exceeding 1.5 million. These figures are almost the same as the aggregate circulation of all 32 Finnish dailies, which stands at 1.6 million.

Radio waves on the web

Photo: Matti Hurme
Click to enlarge the picture
Bjarne Kallis (right), Christian Democratic Party MP, is interviewed for Radio Nova in Helsinki on election day in 2003.

Finland has five national radio channels, four of them public service stations and one commercial. YLE started radio shows in 1926 and now broadcasts in Finnish, Swedish and Sámi. YLE relays programmes from various foreign countries on its Capital FM channel in the Helsinki area. YLE maintains 25 regional editorial offices for regional radio programmes, five of them also offering regional TV news for the national network.

The first licences for local commercial radio stations were issued in 1985, breaching the de facto monopoly of public broadcasting. May 1997 saw the creation of the first nationwide commercial radio station when Radio Nova went on the air. In 2008, there were ten nationwide and 47 local commercial radio stations. Practically all radio stations are accessible via internet and radio companies are actively developing web radio services.

New mobile media technology has opened new possibilities for supplying programmes. Opened on the internet in 2007, YLE Areena makes YLE radio and television programmes available in Finland and abroad. Another service, YLE Living Archive, is an internet-based service for common history in sounds and images, with hundreds of YLE TV shows and thousands of radio programmes accessible at any time.

Light regulation

The basic tools in Finnish media policy are legislation, public subsidy, taxation and fee reductions. The Ministry of Transport and Communications oversees telecommunications; the operating licences for local radio and television; and the press subsidy system.

The Ministry of Education promotes content production for TV, video and movies, as well as copyright matters, education, archiving and research. The Finnish Communications Regulatory Authority (Ficora) inspects technical infrastructure, equipment, frequencies and technical licences. The government decides the fee for the annual television licence fee for viewers.

Internet pace

Growth in internet use has been steady in recent years, but its pace has slowed somewhat. Eighty percent of Finns age 15 to 74 used the internet in spring 2007.

Internet is being used at home by 72 percent of 15- to 74-year-olds. Eighty-four percent of people under 40 and 62 percent of those over 40 have internet access at home. Thirty-two percent of the population ordered or purchased products online for personal or household use in 2007, while 54 percent bought travel or holiday accommodation online.

Development and vision

The internet has shaken up the media industry. A majority of people now utilise it for personal communication and business. Internet use has expanded into all areas of communication, claiming a share of traditional media audiences.

As an increasing number of media outlets becomes accessible, audiences are fragmenting. As a result, the average audience share per channel is decreasing, forcing TV channels to air more repeats of their own programmes and purchase cheaper content. The wider range of supply lightens the content and gives impetus to the other media.

The slightly decreasing subscription figures and rising total costs drive newspapers to further develop their internet versions and services. Web publications are creating new opportunities for local citizen journalism.

Recent growth rates for electronic and recorded media are greater than those for print. Print media will continue to dominate the Finnish mass media economy but its share of the total volume will decrease. The amount of people who read newspapers only on the web has grown, especially among younger readers. Thanks to their internet versions, Finnish newspapers are attracting more readers than ever.

Jyrki Jyrkiäinen is a senior lecturer in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Tampere


Finnish Newspapers Association
YLE: Finland's national public broadcasting company
RadioMedia: Association of Finnish Broadcasters
Finnish Periodical Publishers' Association
Ministry of Transport and Communications

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