The main public service broadcaster DR has been restructuring following substantial cuts to its funding and ahead of a new multiyear contract in mid-2021. Private news organisations are gradually compensating for declining print readers and advertising revenue with increased digital subscriptions, together with the substantial annual subsidies they receive, boosted in 2020 by specific COVID- 19 support.
COVID-19 caused a 2.7% fall in Danish GNP in 2020, with a massive and varied impact on the Danish news media. First, it led to an estimated 8% fall in total advertising revenues. Second, falling revenue led to redundancies, with unemployment rising to around 10% by year end, almost a third more than 2019. Third, COVID-19 boosted news media use across platforms, and television in particular. Danes reported accessing news media more often and placing more trust in news overall and in most brands, but relatively few reported increasing their media spend during the pandemic. Towards the end of 2020, news use tended to normalise, especially compared to the spring 2020 bump. Fourth, the Danish government created COVID-19 support measures for media companies. These amounted to an additional €18.7m (144m Danish kroner) in 2020, in addition to the standard subsidy of €53.6m (412m Danish kroner) granted that year – and which are credited with limiting the number of layoffs.
The sizeable annual state subsidies for commercial news media are awarded in proportion to the number of editorial staff, the size and social diversity of their readership, and the amount of democratically important political and cultural content they carry. Niche nationals (e.g. Kristeligt Dagblad, Information) receive a €3.9m subsidy; national daily broadsheets (e.g. Politiken, Berlingske) and tabloids (e.g. BT, Ekstra Bladet) €2.3m–3.4m; regional dailies €0.7–2.3m, local €0.3–0.8m; digital-born brands €0.1–0.8m.1
The 20% cuts imposed on DR by the previous right-wing government were reversed by the Social Democrats elected in 2019, and in the end amounted to 420m DKK (€53.6m) of the intended 900m DKK (€117m). Even so, they had already led to the closure of three linear TV channels, though, one, DR3 (aimed at young adults) continues online. Given the continued popularity of streaming services (with weekly use of YouTube at 52%, Netflix 48%, DR 42%, and TV2 20%),2 both national public service organisations, DR and TV2, launched initiatives in late 2020 to increase news content on their own streaming services.
Across private and public service news providers the turn to audio accelerated, as most news brands offer automated audio versions of news articles. In autumn 2020, DR relaunched and renamed its DR Radio app as DR Sound to integrate its existing broadcast radio programmes with its podcasts. Many news organisations offer daily news or current affairs podcasts free of charge (DR, Zetland, Jysk Fynske, Altinget, Information, and Politiken – which offers them free on two weekdays) attracting thousands of listeners and appealing especially to a young demographic.
Our figures show the numbers paying for news are relatively stable, around 16% over recent years, but news organisations report 2020 as a breakthrough year for online subscriptions. A survey by Danske Medier found that the number of online subscribers had increased by 100,000 since 2019.
After so-called ‘ambassador campaigns’ by existing members to persuade their friends to sign up, digital-born, ‘member’-based news brand Zetland reported its first operating profits in 2020 (since its launch in 2012) with more than 20,000 members.
Online news media are struggling to find ways to counter new data protection regulation of cookies which (1) require site owners to operate consent boxes, allowing easier rejection of some commercial tracking, (2) have led to up to one-third of users rejecting tracking by cookies, and (3) deprive newsmakers of valuable commercial knowledge to resell to advertisers. As a result, more content may be moved behind paywalls. In addition, since September 2020, discrepancies in the ways in which different news organisations implement rules about users’ cookie acceptance have meant there has been no reliable cross-industry measurement of online news use (page views, unique visits).3
In terms of relations between publishers and platforms, the government is poised to introduce legislation akin to that in Australia, to force Facebook and Google to pay a fee for distributing news content from Danish news organisations.
Kim Christian Schrøder, Mark Blach-Ørsten, and Mads Kæmsgaard Eberholst
Roskilde University, Denmark
Both public service organisations (DR, TV2) have gained users online (by five and eight percentage points respectively) and TV2’s television reach also grew by 5pp. Growth in the use of the smartphone for news resumed, after plateauing in recent years.
Pay for online news
Listen to podcast in the last month
Share news via social, messaging or email
Trust in news overall
Trust in news I use
Trust in news in search
Trust in news on social media
COVID-19 seems to have prompted an increased reliance on authoritative information, and overall trust figures recovered dramatically (by 13 percentage points) after last year’s (11 point) drop. All news brands saw substantially increased trust, with public service news showing growth of 5–6 percentage points, and similar increases for many tabloid and broadsheet brands.
1 Mediawatch.dk, 20 Dec. 2020.
2 DR Medieforskning, Jan. 2021.
3 Mediawatch.dk, 2 Mar. 2021.