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.