One of the questions that most resonate after Vasile’s departure, beyond those related to the top management, is what the future content strategy will be like, whether it will entail a drastic change with respect to the previous stage and, specifically, what weight news will have in the Mediaset brand.
The experts consulted by this newspaper agree that, in comparison with Atresmedia, its main competitor, Mediaset is far behind in terms of offer, as Cuatro, the second channel, has killed the news programmes in 2019; in terms of audience, with a growing gap with the leader and, in short, in terms of brand, which has remained intact over the years, with Pedro Piqueras, David Cantero and José Ribagorda at the helm.
Four years after the end of Noticias Cuatro
Four years after the end of Cuatro’s news programmes and their replacement by a current affairs programme, Cuatro al día, experts confirm the failure of this decision, at least in terms of audience share.
The data provided by Barlovento Comunicación show a double reading: that of Cuatro’s audience in the evening and that of the afternoons. In the first, the 20:00 to 20:45 slot -the time slot in which Cuatro’s news programmes were broadcast- said goodbye in 2019 with an average of 3.3%, and in 2022, the channel obtained an average share of 4.7% with the current affairs slot. However, in the 14:15 to 14:40 time slot, Cuatro’s performance in 2019 was almost 6% share and at the close of 2022, the Mediaset channel averaged a discreet 3.6% in that slot.
The consultant’s deputy director, José Manuel Eleta, believes that “in the two slots as a whole and only in terms of audience, the balance cannot be said to have been positive for Cuatro. However, in order to assess the decision taken in 2019 as a whole, it would be necessary to look in depth at important variables such as the economic profitability of the schedule, the qualitative positioning of the new audience profiles and the brand image that the channel is now projecting”.
The journalist and lecturer in ‘Audiovisual Journalism’ at the CEU San Pablo University, Esther Cervera, considers that “any generalist channel that dispenses with news services is making a serious mistake, as they lend prestige and credibility to a channel and, although entertainment is a priority in television, it has been shown that information and the role of the journalist is a necessary value and an essential need in our society”.
Ramón Salaverría, researcher and lecturer in Journalism at the University of Navarra, believes that “I would not establish a cause-effect relationship between the decision to close Cuatro’s news programmes and the fall in audience figures and the loss of leadership experienced by Mediaset. I sincerely believe that it was not the right decision, but neither would I venture to say that the loss of leadership is due to this reason”. The evidence, he stresses, is that “Antena 3 has clearly achieved that leadership that was previously in the hands of Mediaset, which is more interested in infotainment, content with a certain degree of spectacularity and histrionics”.
The academic considers that “Mediaset’s chair is currently lacking the informative leg, which, if they reinforce it, the whole offer will be seen in a more stable and consolidated way by the audience”.
“A new group strategy with a clear editorial line”
Experts see the need for Mediaset to put a new strategy on the table. Eleta considers that this must have corporate coherence, “joining forces and with a clear editorial line, which distinguishes it from the current positioning of Antena 3 and La 1, and, of course, with a new news image with new sets, graphics, production…, and new faces in the roster of presenters.
The speed of change is also a relevant factor. The audiovisual consultant would advise the group “not to make too many changes in a short period of time, but rather gradually and correcting towards the coordinates that mark the new strategic direction of the company”. The departure of Vasile, the beginning of the electoral year and the unstoppable emergence of new pseudo-informational channels, provide a scenario of opportunities for Mediaset in terms of news, according to the specialists.
Cervera, who was part of the founding team of Cuatro’s news programmes and is the author of the book Las Caras de la Noticia (The Faces of the News), emphasises the aesthetic aspect. She recommends “investing in another news set that is more adapted to the times” and believes that “there is a huge difference between the set of Informativos Telecinco and that of any other entertainment programme. Betting on augmented reality, as other channels have done when it comes to telling the news, and knowing how to make the most of their professionals and putting them in front of the cameras to tell what is happening, is a way of bringing the news closer to the viewer. Making news television more participative by taking advantage of the pull of social networks”.
For his part, Salaverría recalls that “there was a time when Mediaset had very important local coverage, when it was with the Atlas agency, and had a proximity that was not purely capital-based. Today, there are many news programmes that remain mere talk shows with analysts from Madrid”. In this sense, he would advise recovering “good news coverage that covers the whole of Spain. It would be an interesting strategy”.
With regard to the faces of Informativos Telecinco, he argues that “consolidated presenters have that double side of the coin: on the one hand, when they have a very long career, keeping them means that there are hardly any changes, and if a restructuring is undertaken, if it is not accompanied by a change of faces, it is difficult to be perceived as such”.
In addition to Informativos Telecinco, Mediaset’s strictly informative offer is also supported by Nius, the news website launched in 2019 directed by Mediaset’s news director, Juan Pedro Valentín, and where a good part of the journalists who were at Noticias Cuatro work, such as Miguel Ángel Oliver, who returned a year and a half ago to Mediaset after being dismissed as Secretary of State for Communication.
In the coming weeks, it will be confirmed whether Mediaset finally opts to maintain its news brand or, on the contrary, to reformulate its strategy, as foreseen by sources consulted by this newspaper.