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Tuesday, 20 January, 1998, 16:57 GMT
Europe TV news: too many programmes, too few viewers?
European viewers have access to a very diverse and dynamic international TV news environment as the most powerful international and local operators compete to attract audiences. However, the TV news market is extremely volatile too as high running costs and the difficulty of attracting large numbers of viewers and advertising revenues make it a rather expensive and often unattractive business.

The long-term survival of many TV news channels in Europe will thus depend to a great extent on their links with powerful private or public groups ready to absorb possible losses. Morand Fachot, of BBC Monitoring's Foreign Media Unit, has more details:

In recent months TV news channels have made the headlines on many occasions with, among other things, the introduction of round-the-clock TV news services in Britain and Spain, plans for the launch of a similar service in Italy later this year, the acquisition of a 49% stake in Euronews by the British company ITN and the global merger of the US business news giants NBC and Dow Jones.

Nowhere else is the dynamism of the international TV news business more apparent than in Europe, where the most powerful international and local operators compete to attract audiences.

News-hungry Europeans with access to cable or satellite can now watch news on a number of specialized international TV news channels as well as on their domestic channels. The broadest choice is in English, with no less than six channels on offer:

  • CNN International, the first 24-hour all-news TV channel launched in the USA in 1980, now part of the Time Warner media group, also provides a dedicated European news service. According to a recent European Media and Marketing Survey, it has a regular weekly audience of some 6m.

  • Euronews, the multilingual service based in France launched in 1993, is a joint venture between public broadcasters in Europe and the Mediterranean Basin. Euronews uses news and magazine footage provided by members of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and major news agencies. It broadcasts simultaneously to Europe in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Arabic. It is the second most viewed TV news channel in Europe after CNNI, reaching 1.1m viewers daily.

  • BBC World, partly financed by the media group Pearson, can draw on the BBC's 50 news bureaux worldwide and is steadily expanding its reach throughout Europe and the world.

  • Sky News, the news service of BSkyB, partly owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, is widely available via cable and satellite throughout Europe, but its audience is mostly to be found in Britain where it claims 1m viewers daily, 10 times more than CNNI.

  • Bloomberg Television, a private company originally offering a financial news service, is trying to compete with the more traditional channels for domestic audiences. It signed deals with the AFP, ANSA and Efe news agencies to launch services in French, Italian and Spanish, and is now getting ready to launch a German service. Its trademark is an unorthodox on-screen presentation with video footage and presenter occupying a corner of the screen, financial and other news taking the rest.

  • EBN, European Business News, launched in 1995 by Dow Jones, the owner of the 'Wall Street Journal' has now merged with CNBC, also available in Europe. CNBC, owned by General Electric, is tied to Microsoft in a joint TV and internet news venture, MSNBC.

    National TV news channels such as LCI in France, NTV in Germany, Canal 24 Horas in Spain and BBC News 24 in Britain are also available in a number of European countries.

    Access to TV news in Europe has never been easier. However, TV news is a rather volatile business for a number of reasons:

  • to state the obvious, it is dependent on news; no news - or no spectacular pictures to be more precise, as TV news is mainly picture-driven - means few viewers; this uncertainty explains the relative lack of interest of advertisers in news channels.

  • it is an expensive business, and rarely a profitable one. Viewers want news, but are not ready to pay for the service.

  • audiences in most countries are more interested in domestic rather than in international news, except in cases of war or natural or man-made disasters, hence the difficulties faced by international channels in attracting, then retaining viewers (and advertisers), and the greater success of domestic news channels.

    For these reasons, the survival of Europe's TV news channels will depend on their links with larger private or public groups and the long-term readiness and ability of such groups to absorb possible losses.

  • Top Analysis stories now:

    Links to more Analysis stories are at the foot of the page.