Get it in ink: The nation’s print media maintaining a hold, while other outlets grow

Given its size, its status as a cultural hub of francophone West Africa and its relatively diverse print media and radio sectors, Côte d’Ivoire has the potential to be a major regional media market. While high production costs and low household discretionary spending have limited growth, developments in the audio-visual (AV) sector, namely the migration to digital TV and planned liberalisation, should stimulate competition and spur investment in that side of the market.

Print Media

For nearly thirty years after independence in 1964, the state-owned daily newspaper, Fraternité Matin, held an official monopoly in Côte d’Ivoire’s print media sector. However, since liberalisation in the early 1990s, scores of private newspapers have come onto the scene, offering readers a diversity of perspectives and providing solid competition for the state-owned veteran.

Though the sector nominally supports 31 titles, daily market share is primarily split between Fraternité Matin and a handful of its closest competitors: Soir Info, Le Temps and Le Nouveau Reveil. Fraternité Matin led in sales, according to the National Press Council (Conseil National de la Presse, CNP), averaging 6984 copies sold per day during the third quarter of 2014, but its private sector competitors were closing the gap; over the same period, Soir Info averaged 4666 copies sold per day, Le Nouveau Reveil averaged 3359 copies, and Le Temps averaged 3003 copies. The periodicals segment comprises 31 weeklies, 17 monthlies and 17 additional titles. Among weeklies, Go Magazine and its sister publications Gbich! and Allo Police are bestsellers, as well as the tabloid Top Visages. In the third quarter of 2014, Go Magazine sold nearly 7000 copies per week.

Profitability Challenges

Sales of daily, weekly and monthly periodicals declined over the course of 2014. The weekly Go Magazine saw sales drop from 127,683 to 83,249 between the first and third quarters, respectively. Gbich! and Top Visage, also weeklies, saw similar declines in sales, and the same trend was reflected in the daily segment. For Fraternité Matin, third quarters sales fell about 21%, from 790,144 to 628,584 copies; for Le Nouveau Reveil they declined by about 30% to 302,328 copies, from 434,973; and Le Temps saw copy vastly reduced by nearly 40%, declining from 454,021 to just 270,311 copies.

As is the case throughout West Africa, the print media sector faces many challenges, notably low literacy, estimated by the UN Children’s Fund at 56.9%. High poverty and the rising costs of production are also issues. “The costs of ink and paper have gone up on the global market, and these basic materials are all purchased externally,” explains Telesphore Assomolly, press sales manager at the distributor Edipresse. “Printers do not have the capacity to store these materials, and maintaining storage space would be an additional expense. So, printers often experience paper shortages and reduce print runs.”

Low levels of household discretionary income, with a poverty rate at nearly half the total population, explains the widespread popularity of informal practices like newspaper renting. Rather than purchase a newspaper for the full price of approximately CFA300 (€0.45), a customer rents it for just CFA25 (€0.04), ultimately returning it to the vendor to be rented again or re-sold. Another widespread practice is la titrologie, or “headlining,” whereby customers linger in front of the newsstand reading the headlines from the display rather than purchasing a paper.

Price Increase

To address the problem of low profitability, the Guild of Press Editors of Côte d’Ivoire (Groupement des Éditeurs de Presse de Côte d’Ivoire, GEPCI) in April 2014 raised the uniform price of a daily newspaper from CFA200 (€0.30) to CFA300 (€0.45). The weekly and monthly magazine price also increased, from CFA300 (€0.45) to CFA500 (€0.75).

While the move will likely dampen sales initially, sector actors seem hopeful that readership will return. Assomolly told OBG, “Newspaper prices have not changed in a long time, but the costs of production have increased. So, the objective of the price increase is to render the press houses financially viable.”

Regulatory Environment

The CNP regulates the print media sector and collects statistics on print runs and sales. Access to the profession is unrestricted, both for journalists and press houses. Freedom of the press and journalistic independence are guaranteed by law, and as of 2004, imprisonment is no longer a possible sanction for press offenses.

Nonetheless, disregard for press freedoms was a recurrent feature of the recent decade-long civil conflict and of the post-electoral crisis of 2011. Within the past year, however, press freedom has improved to the extent that it is fairly unremarkable to see headlines overtly critical of the current administration. In the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX)’s 2012 Media Sustainability Index, among five categories assessed, Côte d’Ivoire scored highest in the categories of “Free Speech”, “Plurality of News Sources” and “Supporting Institutions”, achieving the level of “near sustainability” (scoring 3 out of a possible 4 points) in these categories.

Partnership

A prominent feature of the media landscape — again, common throughout West Africa — is the high degree of political partisanship among outlets, which is also reflected in the IREX Index; Côte d’Ivoire’s lowest score is in the category of “Professional Journalism”. Goore Bi Hué, president of the Organisation of Professional Journalists in Côte d’Ivoire and Journalist-Special Correspondent at Fraternité Matin, told OBG that, “The majority of newspapers are created by politicians, with the result that the press suffers from a low degree of professionalism.” Few journalists have training in professional standards and ethics, and salaries are low, encouraging corrupt practices that imperil journalistic independence. The problem of low profitability is linked to press partisanship; many papers must rely on conditional funding, which inhibits their capacity for objective news coverage.

Circulation

According to the national distributor, Edipresse, the daily newspaper circulation volume was approximately 175,000 copies in early 2014, down from 2013’s peak of 200,000. Edipresse is working to rebuild its distribution network, which used to serve 50 cities, but which currently comprises only 156 points of sale across 42 cities. The network was partially lost during the post-electoral crisis of 2011 as vendors left the harder-hit regions of the country. Economic decline in the sector has aggravated the loss. “Of the clients we lose,” said Assomolly, “some shut down because of security concerns or damage to their shops during the crisis, and some closed simply because it is no longer profitable to sell newspapers.”

All national newspapers do their printing in Abidjan, and as there is currently no domestic air delivery in Côte d’Ivoire, distribution is accomplished via the country’s ill-maintained road network. In part because of delays caused by poor road conditions, newspapers are delivered late in the day to some cities, which impacts sales. Rehabilitation of the national road network – a current government priority – will likely boost print media sales, said Assomolly. He told OBG, “If the distribution vehicles could arrive in the cities at reasonable times, that may improve sales.” Opening printing operations in cities further inland could also help, but would require investment. Meanwhile, Edipresse is also looking further afield; the distributor has recently launched a website and plans to expand into the diaspora market via online subscriptions.

Content

Political and lifestyle articles dominate in print media, followed to a lesser extent by sector or industry-specific information; business news is catered to by a limited number of outlets, for example. As Lucien Agpia, managing director of PME Magazine, one of the country’s economics-oriented media group, explains, “PME does not have a lot of competition. Among 30 daily newspapers in Côte d’Ivoire, there is not a single one with an economic focus. Likewise, we have many magazines, but for economic coverage there are just a few. It is more of a thematic competition; the population is more interested in politics.”

PME Magazine publishes a bi-monthly magazine on business topics under the same name, as well as an economics-oriented, twice-weekly newspaper, La Tribune de l’Economie. It recently launched a third publication, a weekly title dedicated to youth entrepreneurship. Print runs for La Tribune are 5000 copies each, and range from 5000-10,000 for the magazine. Other business publications are predominantly multinational titles, like Jeune Afrique and African Business.

RADIO: According to CNP records, the radio market is served by a diverse group of more than 90 broadcasters. In addition to the state broadcaster, Radiodiffusion Television Ivoirienne (RTI), there are some 64 community stations, eight rural stations, seven religious broadcasters, as well as a handful of commercial and international broadcasters.

While TV enjoys greater popularity in areas where it is accessible, radio has a much wider audience. This is consistent with trends reported by AfroBarometer for the continent overall. A 2013 study by the free speech advocacy group found that 77% of African respondents reported the radio as their main news source. This is especially true in rural areas, where unreliable electrical power and the high cost of TV limit viewership. Instead, battery-powered, hand-held radios give farmers the chance to tune in while working. Another contributing factor is the high penetration rate of mobile phones (85%, according to a 2013 study by Twinpine), many of which are radio-enabled.

Broadcasters

RTI broadcasts three terrestrial TV channels and three radio stations, with each format featuring a channel for national news, an Abidjan-area channel and a Bouaké-based channel. During the violence in 2011, many of RTI’s transmitters and studios were very badly damaged, forcing them to suspend broadcasting to areas outside of Abidjan for four months. Now almost fully rehabilitated, RTI estimates that its national programming infrastructure covers up to 80% of the country. Except for a next-day news synthesis delivered in each of the national languages, which RTI offers as part of its public service mandate, programming is exclusively in French.

Major private sector players include the popular commercial stations Radio Nostalgie, offering music and international and local news, and Radio Jam, whose entertainment and music programming is geared toward a youth audience. ONUCI FM is run by the UN peacekeeping mission to Côte d’Ivoire and airs content aimed at fostering national cohesion. Meanwhile, foreign stations like Radio France Internationale, the BBC, Voice of America and the Gabon-based Africa N01 also have a strong presence. Religious stations like Radio Nationale Catholique, Radio Espoir (Catholic), Radio Fréquence Vie (Evangelical) and Radio Al Bayanne, the main Muslim station, are popular as well.

Television

In contrast to the diversity of the radio market, televised media is consolidated under the state-owned RTI, the sole broadcaster, though consumers also have access to satellite stations via CanalSat. Liberalisation of the AV sector is planned for 2015. The AV regulator, the High Authority for AV Communications (Haute Autorité de la Communication Audiovisuelle, HACA), has postponed liberalisation to coincide with the transition to digital TV in June 2015. Digitisation of TV will allow broadcasters to air multiple channels on one transmitter, enabling new market entrants to achieve greater returns on investment and reducing the cost of expansion.

For consumers, the dual transition will mean more viewing options, as all broadcasters will have the technical capacity to diversify their offerings. The pivotal factor for a successful transition to digital TV will be consumers’ ability to receive the new signals, either by purchasing decoder boxes or upgrading their TV sets. It is unclear to what extent Ivorian households will be prepared for the transition, but a 2014 report by London-based Digital TV Research indicates that sub-Saharan Africa is embracing digital TV rapidly. The report estimates that more than half of all TVowning households in the region will soon be digital TV households, and that near full conversion will be achieved by 2020. However, the report also forecasts that by 2020 only 38.4% of households will have a TV.

Online Media

Similar to the rest of the region, the market for online media remains limited due to the low rate of internet penetration. The World Bank estimates that in 2012 only 2.4% of the population were internet users. Nonetheless, many newspapers, magazines and radio stations maintain an online presence. The largest outlet in terms of visitors for web media is Abidjan.net, a continually updated content aggregator for Ivorian and regional print media, which receives on average about 1m visits per week. The portal also serves as a point of sale for 30 newspapers and periodicals, processing online payments and offering customers the option to download their purchase.

Outlook

While high costs and demographic factors in the Ivorian market continue to pose a challenge to the profitability of the nation’s print media in the short-to-medium term, strong overall economic growth and a large youth population hold promise for the future of web media. By comparison, opportunities in the AV sector are larger. The move to AV liberalisation, plus the shift to digital TV, should create new opportunities for investment in the near future.

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