Malta’s media industry is trying to turn a new page as it looks for growth by exporting the written word and media services around the globe. The island has one of the most competitive media markets in Europe. A large number of local media organisations – often tied to political parties, the unions or the Church – are feeding a population hungry for content. Local media houses are now developing new revenue streams to sustain growth and profitability. Backed by a strong telecoms infrastructure and the English-language skills of the Maltese, the island is well positioned to emerge as a main production hub selling content internationally. Given current trends in content marketing, corporate blogging and social media, Malta’s media sector is eyeing exciting growth opportunities. In some ways, Malta is already succeeding as a content hub. Specialist content production houses for the iGaming sector have already moved into Malta, driving traffic and managing websites for the large number of iGaming companies operating from the island.
Colonial and Cultural Heritage
No other sector reflects Malta’s colourful history and development as a cultural melting pot as much as the media one. While the island’s first newspaper was published in French during the French occupation, it was under the rule of the British, in 1839, that press freedom was introduced. The newspaper market took off in the 1920s and 1930s with the publication of Maltese and English-language newspapers. The first radio stations were established in the 1930s to counteract fascist propaganda from Italian radio broadcasts. Italian television channels have been received since 1957, while the first Maltese television station was founded five years later. It remained the only TV station until the early 1990s when Malta opened up the broadcast sector to competition.
A Competitive Local Market
Today, the Maltese have the luxury of choice: 13 newspapers, 8 television stations and almost 50 radio stations, the majority of these being community stations, offer news and entertainment. For a population of some 425,000, this media density is impressive: there is a national TV and radio station for every 16 square kilometres and a daily or weekly newspaper for every 33,000 persons. In addition to newspapers, there are a number of locally owned magazines covering diverse topics such as the economy, fashion and style and cooking. Franchises of international magazines have not been established in Malta. As a reflection of the country’s bilingualism, approximately half of the papers are published in English and half in Maltese.TV and radio programmes are for the most part in Maltese. Ad agencies are small or medium-sized and mostly affiliated to international networks, servicing the marketing and communications needs of national and international clients in the country. Many agencies also perform work such as design or concept development for other European affiliates which outsource specific tasks to the island due to its lower cost base.
The Malta Independent, In-Nazzjon and Times of Malta are three out of the 13 newspapers available in Malta
The entire sector is estimated to employ around 3,500 people and accounts for some 1.4% of GDP. Print publications are an important vehicle for publicity for the island’s businesses. The economy mainly consists of small-to-medium-sized companies with insufficient budgets to afford TV commercials. The top advertisers in print and broadcast are the big telecoms companies, banks and insurance companies, as well as the leading retailers; however iGaming companies have also started venturing into TV campaigns either to attract customers or for CSR purposes.
Local News Leaders
Published by Allied Newspapers and with some 77,000 readers, The Times is the unchallenged market leader and the strongest newspaper financially. The bi-weekly MaltaToday of Media Today has made significant inroads into the market, and its Sunday edition reaches some 12,000 readers. The Malta Independent also went through a major restructuring exercise, which has provided it with a larger reader-base and a stronger public influence. The country’s English-language newspapers are commercial in nature, in contrast to the Maltese language papers which – with one exception – are owned by political parties, unions or the Church. A new comer to Malta’s media scene is Lovin Malta, part of the Lovin Group that runs websites in five cities offering a mix of news and entertainment pieces.
Radio and TV stations are regulated by the Broadcasting Authority, and Malta is the only European country where regulations allow political parties to own television stations directly. Today the public television station Television Malta (TVM) operated by the Public Broadcasting Services (PBS) One TV of the Labour Party, and Net TV of Malta’s Nationalist Party dominate the audio-visual sector. Private television stations have a market share of less than 5%. Because of its public-service obligation, TVM is funded by a government grant as well as by advertising and sponsorships. TVM’s news portal has also made major inroads over the past 12 months. Private-sector broadcasters derive their revenue exclusively from advertising and, in the case of One TV and Net TV, from sponsorship. The Church plays an important role in the radio sector, operating two stations, in addition to Church-oriented community radio stations. Telecoms companies Melita Cable and GO both offer digital TV relaying all the major UK and US channels and programmes. In early 2016, the arrival of Netflix on the island resulted in ripples of uncertainty; however after the initial furore, the market has now normalised.
Although competition for readers and audiences is high, the market has remained relatively static in recent years, without any game-changing new entrants. Studies show that 49% of the population aged 12 years and over listen to radio at least once in a 30-day-period while an average of 62% follow at least one TV station in a month. Social media represents the fastest-growing media segment: almost 90% of the Maltese population are active Facebook users.
Local broadband penetration currently stands at 79% of all households, ranking 3% higher than the EU average. Broadcast outlets have companion websites and while until some years ago they used to consider digital as complementary rather than intrinsic to their business model, things have now started to change as more and more advertisers are resorting to using news portals. In May 2013, The Times became the first newspaper to experiment with paid specialised digital content. However, the paid content model is still relatively unpopular and possibly unsustainable for Malta.
Advertising and marketing companies are also looking at ways to grow their market share in the field of content creation and are offering the production of corporate newsletters or content for websites and social media channels. With a lower cost base than media hubs such as London or Berlin, and with English-speaking professionals on hand, they believe Malta can act as the ideal outsourcing base for international companies.
Online lead generation companies operating mainly within the iGaming eco-system are a latest addition to the extended media landscape in Malta. Catena Media, which is one of the more prominent examples of such outfits, can be described as the largest newsroom on the island with a staggering total of over 200 employees. There is also great potential for Malta to become known for other specialist areas of expertise, for instance in financial services. Malta has already built up a strong financial services workforce, and today’s financial services companies need partners who understand their products and know what it takes to deliver relevant content to their customers.
This ambition is supported by the availability of first-class print media and production specialists, graphic designers and other professionals such as SEO specialists, social media managers, and video and audio production specialists. Several training institutions are constantly working to improve human capital in the industry. Analysts however speak of a crisis within the journalistic profession, as it seems that content-driven and investigative journalism are becoming ever so rare. Malta also still has work to do to establish itself as an English-language content hub. There is a need to introduce high-quality writing programmes and modules at the island’s educational institutions. On the other hand there is a certain level of anticipation around a recently launched Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism, which will be offered at the Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology (MCAST). Focusing the aspirations of Malta’s young towards the creative industries as early as possible and encouraging students to pursue qualifications in areas such as film, interactive media and television, Malta needs to make audio-visual production a viable and promising career choice. The island’s ability of attracting expats also means that marketing and communications companies can tap into a supply of native English-speakers from the UK and the US.
The future success of Malta’s extensive stable of publications will depend on their ability to adapt and innovate in the online and mobile spheres. Thus, the development of content for mobile-specific products is an area with significant potential given the exponential growth in smartphone penetration and the corresponding uptake in mobile internet usage worldwide. Nonetheless, because of Malta’s high media density, it is unlikely that all outlets will survive in the long term, with some consolidation inevitable. Like other developed markets, the sector must address how best to monetise new platforms and bolster audience bases. Past experience shows, however, that Malta’s young, tech-savvy population is fast in adapting to new technologies. With a rich talent pool and the island’s reputation as an international business and finance hub, there are many opportunities for Maltese media professionals to assist foreign companies in their media, public relations and marketing needs.
Making Malta ’s voice heard
Today’s corporate communication strategies demand that online, social and traditional media, and marketing channels are interlinked. This level of integration requires consultants, web developers, copywriters, graphic designers, videographers, photographers and content marketers working as a team to implement a media strategy. While Malta already boasts a relatively sophisticated talent pool in these areas, the island needs to raise the bar on quality if it wants to become a leader in the production of quality content for export. The reality needs to match the rhetoric. Promoting Malta’s advantages in the international content arena, and marketing their own capabilities, also need to be priorities for media companies seeking to win foreign contracts.