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MEDCOM goes after TVN with dubious statistics

by Eric Jackson

The advertising industry's woes, long evident in all of Panama's mass communications media, are now being played out in the daily newspapers via full-page attack ads by which MECOM, the corporation that owns two of Panama's three major commercial television networks and the Cable Onda cable system, is trying to lure advertisers away from the rival TVN television network. The ads, which appeared on September 24, proclaimed that "in this race, third is the last," and claimed that MEDCOM's Telemetro network had an average 46 percent audience share between July 30 and September 2, while its RPC network had a 32 percent share, leaving TVN with 22 percent. The ads claim that the data were from a survey conducted by Ibope Time, a company that's not well known.

The percentages add up to 100, which implies that nobody at all watches the cable networks or programming on the DirecTV satellite service, and there is no audience for the Catholic channel 5 or the University of Panama's channel 11 educational stations, and that likewise there are no viewers of the religious and news programming on channels 29 and 21. Coming after several days when CNN's Spanish-language coverage dominated the attention of Panama's cable and satellite TV viewers and MEDCOM's reduced news departments compelled the RPC network to run a September 20 "news" show that used a crude photo montage to allege that a UFO was involved in the World Trade Center attacks, the new ad campaign looks like a desperate struggle in a severely shrunken advertising market.

The true state of affairs can be generally seen in the Panamanian networks' programming moves, in how thick the daily newspapers are, and in the amounts and types of video advertising that is now sold here. It is not so precisely discerned as in the US market, where generally recognized and impartial companies like Nielsen in television and Arbitron in radio measure broadcast audiences and it's a crime for print media to inflate their circulation figures to sell ads.

TVN long boasted that it was the leader in Panamanian sports programming, but that's clearly not the case anymore. The network used to broadcast almost all of the New York Yankees' games, but during this regular baseball season it couldn't sell the advertising needed to pay Major League Baseball for the rights, so there was very little baseball on Panamanian television. TVN also laid off much of its sports reporting team and scrapped most of its local sports programs. Now RPC, on the strength of Juan Carlos Tapia's "Lo Mejor del Boxeo," is probably Panama's leading sports broadcaster.


Meanwhile, RPC and the other Panamanian networks are looking for the cheapest imports that they can buy. During the purported Ibope Time survey period, RPC announced some new programming with more fanfare that one would expect under the circumstances --- they are now showing "Leave it to Beaver" reruns. Latin American soap operas have pushed a number of North American shows out of Panama's broadcast schedules, and we are seeing more inexpensive locally produced soaps. Both MEDCOM and TVN have cut their broadcast hours, and though they split the rights to the US military's SCN channels between them at auctions earlier this year, neither appears ready to launch their new commercial channels in the current depressed market.

The daily newspapers are all thinner as a result of fewer ad sales. There are also many other tell-tale signs of cost-cutting, like the inclusion of more wire service material and larger graphics to fill space and compensate for fewer journalists on their staffs.

Meanwhile, the cheap morning "classified" television ads that used to be a mainstay of small business publicity are disappearing fast. Cable Onda advertising was rarely bought by paying customers in the best of times --- ad agencies that steered clients toward MEDCOM and received spots to promote themselves always dominated in that medium --- but now it appears that there are even fewer full-price clients.


Large corporate accounts plugging relatively low-priced goods and services (cell phones, consumer banking, beer, cigarettes, soft drinks, fast food and the like) seem to be the remaining pool of choice advertisers in the Panamanian market. MEDCOM's ad offensive against TVN is best seen as a move to strip such business away from the competition, because there aren't many other choice advertising accounts out there to be attracted.

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Teaching tomorrow's attorneys environmental law
American expats: How secure is your position?
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