A flourishing market: New publications are vying for a share of rising demand

With hundreds of newspapers, magazines, and television and radio stations, Mongolia’s media scene is competitive, dynamic and increasingly varied. The two decades since the fall of communism have seen the sector bloom, and new outlets emerge every year. The market is somewhat fragmented, but there are strong players in every sector, and investment and more international partnerships are helping to raise standards.

The media has played a central role in supporting the democratisation process, while its own freedom and dynamism has in turn been increased by that process. As many Mongolians say, the transition is still ongoing, making this one of the most energetic economies in the region, as well as one of the fastest growing in the world. This is reflected in the media sector, in which new outlets are opening on a regular basis as investors look to capitalise on the sector’s vibrancy and potential for synergies with other businesses.

MEDIA MARKET: There were 430 press and media outlets in Mongolia in 2010, including 130 newspapers (see analysis), 95 television stations, 72 radio stations and 102 magazines, according to the “Mongolian Media Today” report published by the Press Institute (PI), a nongovernmental organisation (NGO) that supports the sector’s development. Over the previous two decades, the proliferation of new stations and increasing coverage has seen television surpass radio and newspapers as the most popular source of information. 92.5% of the population in Ulaanbaatar and 91.5% of those living in the countryside watch TV daily, while 98.1% and 97.9%, respectively, tune in at least once a week and only 1.2% and 1.4% do not watch at all. Some 41.9% of the capital’s inhabitants and 42.6% of those in rural areas read a newspaper at least once a week, the respective figures for magazines being 45.9% and 30.7%, while 39% of Ulaanbaatar residents and 45.9% of those living in the provinces listen to the radio at least once a week.

TELEVISION: There were 126 television channels available in Mongolia in 2010, 31 of which were cable channels. 17 new channels were established in 2010 alone, including a few from new regional stations in Erdenet and Dornod. Until 1992 only one broadcaster existed in the country, the Mongolian National Broadcaster (MNB). That year, the Ulaanbaatar Broadcasting System (UBS) was established and brought competition into the sector for the very first time. UBS, which was privatised in 2007, now has three channels, one terrestrial (with news and other content including documentaries) and two cable (one focused on scientific issues and the other with cultural and entertainment programming). In 1996, Channel 25, also known as TV25 and MN25, also joined MNB and UBS.

MNB remains the most-watched channel, reaching 71% of the population each week and 52% daily as of April 2011, according to the PI. It is followed by UBS (69% weekly, 50% daily, the only other channel to have an audience of more than half the population each day), TV9 and TV5 (both 68% weekly) and MN25 (66% weekly). C1, Edutainment TV, SBN, NTV, TV8 and TM all also achieved audiences of 60% or more each week.

MNB broadcasts news and current affairs programmes, with some entertainment. It is directed by a council drawn from several public bodies and NGOs, including the offices of the president and prime minister. The broadcaster’s reputation for neutrality, enshrined in post-communist legislation, took a knock in 2008 during anti-government protests, when it was perceived to have taken the side of the authorities.

UBS, TV9 and TV5 – all of which are partly owned by influential businessmen or politicians – are perceived as leaning towards the Mongolian People’s Party. MN25, meanwhile, is perceived as generally neutral.

CABLE: Cable television is increasingly popular in the country, with the top three channels – Olloo, UBS-II and TV9-II – reaching a fifth to a quarter of the national population each week. The leading cable operator by far is Sansar, accounting for 62% of subscriptions. Sansar has 64 different channels in Ulaanbaatar, for which it charges MNT5500 ($4.30) monthly, making cable access affordable for all but the very poorest.

COMPETITION: While regional stations are emerging fast, Ulaanbaatar-based channels continue to expand their coverage, with eight channels establishing nationwide broadcasting through dish antennae in 2010. This gives Mongolia 14 national television channels, a large number for the small population, and up from six just a year before. There are a further 26 stations available in Ulaanbaatar and 55 regional channels in various provinces. Among the new entries in 2011 were several channels from Turner Broadcasting System Asia Pacific, a branch of Time Warner, launched in partnership with Univision, Mongolia’s first IPTV operator.

The deal sees a number of Turner’s more popular channels, including CNN International, Cartoon Network and truTV (a reality channel) offered through Univision’s triple-play service on its high-speed fibre optic network in Ulaanbaatar and other urban centres.

With so many channels, and new entrants arriving on a regularly (some with high-quality international programming), the sector is very competitive. Incumbents like UBS aim to leverage their considerable experience and skilled staff. Human resources are not as much of a challenge for the broadcast media as they are in other sectors of the economy, as the industry is dynamic, internationalised and reasonably well financed. Nonetheless, stations must stay ahead of the game to remain competitive and profitable. “There is a lot of competition, and more and more TV stations with ideas and skilled workers,” L. Nyamdavaa, the vice-director of UBS told OBG. “You have to have quality to draw viewers, and that requires an excellent team.”

According to Nyamdavaa, the channels that have emerged over the past 10 years have been mixed – some have strong financial and political backing and talented employees, while others are little more than failing enterprises or even vanity projects. She asserts that some stations operate at a loss, due to low advertising uptake, but are maintained as useful media outlets.

LOCAL & FOREIGN: Nyamdavaa expects the next few years to see something of a shake out in the television market, partly due to competition, but also due to regulation. New government rules are expected to require Mongolian channels to broadcast at least 50% locally generated content. This should present few challenges for the main players (in 2010 68% of MNB’s broadcasting and 85% of UBS’s was produced in-house) but for low-budget channels relying heavily on dubbed or subtitled content, the rules could prove expensive.

Foreign programming will remain an important part of the Mongolian television scene, however, and local channels continue to seek international partnerships. “Korean Wave” shows and films are particularly popular, as are international sports broadcasts and quality global news. In 2011 UBS made a deal with Japan’s government broadcaster, NHK, for rights to broadcast sumo wrestling in Mongolia. At the time of research it was in negotiations with the US-based Associated Press for news, sports and entertainment content.

NEW PLAYERS: A clear sign of the potential for media expansion, particularly in niche areas, is the establishment of Bloomberg TV Mongolia, a local channel from the global business and finance information firm. The new channel was announced in November 2011 and is the product of a partnership between Bloomberg Media Group and the Trade and Development Bank (TBD), one of the country’s biggest financial institutions. According to Bloomberg, the channel will be the “first business and financial news network” in Mongolia. The Ulaanbaatar-based Bloomberg TV Mongolia is due to launch in 2012 and will contain locally produced Mongolian-language content, as well as English language news from the 24-hour Bloomberg network.

The rationale behind the entry of a major international broadcaster into the Mongolian market is the growth and internationalisation of the economy, as well as what the partners perceive as a growing demand for accurate, real-time news, data and analysis in the country. According to a statement, the channel will be targeted at “decision makers and business leaders” as well as business travellers. However, as TDB president Randolph Koppa pointed out, now that all Mongolians have shares in the Tavan Tolgoi mining project, Bloomberg’s appeal could be significantly broader.

The partnership, into which TDB brings its years of local experience and business network, is a statement of confidence in the outlook for the Mongolian economy, particularly in the continued growth of trade and foreign investment. It is telling that Bloomberg is making a considerable investment to set up in Mongolia, despite its market of only 2.7m people, the majority of which will probably not tune into Bloomberg regularly. Other international broadcasters, including business specialists, will watch this development with interest.

GOING DIGITAL: Mongolia will switch from analogue to digital television and radio broadcasting by 2014, following a government resolution passed in 2010. The government is investing MNT10bn ($7.8m) from 2011-13 to support the switch. In 2014 it will expand this programme to support purchases of set-top boxes by low-income households. Private networks are expected to meet much of their own costs for migration to digital, which will involve considerable investment.

The basic structure for the switch is already in place, including frequency allocation, but implementation is an incremental process, rolled out over a large country with a substantial nomadic population. It will involve technological investment and staff training, as well as public information efforts. For this Mongolia is working with international experts, including some from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a global industry body. Private broadcasters such as UBS are also working with foreign specialists to ensure that the transition goes smoothly. The switchover is expected to bring several benefits, including an increased access to multiple channels, improvements in quality and more options for receiving broadcasts.

MAGAZINE CIRCULATION: There were a total of 102 magazines with a combined circulation of 3.8m published in the country in 2010. The market has grown rapidly in recent years. In 2000 there were only 37 magazines, and as recently as 2008 total circulation was only 1.1m. Sales grew 92% in 2010, and some 38% of Ulaanbaatar’s population now purchase at least one magazine per week, according to the PI.

Much of the recent circulation surge can be attributed to the stellar success of two publications: Info TV and TV Zone – weekly television listings guides launched in 2009 and 2008 respectively. Info TV, published by B. Dulgoon, also includes celebrity gossip and family and health advice. It sells around 24,000 copies of each issue, making its annual circulation 1.2m, higher than all but the biggest daily newspapers. Info TV’s distribution through food shops and stalls gives it a particularly wide reach and has contributed to a rapid increase in overall annual non-subscription magazine sales, from 592,554 in 2008 to 2.6m in 2010. Subscriptions rose from 498,782 in 2008 to 1.1m in 2010. TV Zone, a weekly published by UBS Television has a circulation of 19,650, or around 1m per year. The manner in which these magazines have come onto the scene and invigorated the market with new concepts and strong distribution networks is indicative of how companies willing to invest and innovate can make substantial strides within the Mongolian media industry.

Other major publications include Nyam Garig, a Sunday issue with a circulation of 6775 published by Mongol News, which also produces the daily newspaper Unuudur and owns Channel 25. Like newspapers, many magazines are institutional publications with a niche readership of a few hundred, though commercial specialist magazines covering areas such as computers, sport and home decoration perform reasonably well.

While a number of major international magazines are distributed in the country, few have shown interest in publishing local-language versions. While this is a trend seen in other Asian countries (with a mix of translated and locally sourced content), there is more limited scope in Mongolia due to the small size of the market.

NEW ENTRANTS: Recent successes in the magazine sector and foreign entrants elsewhere in the media indicate that opportunities do exist for well-targeted and distributed publications. In December 2010 Cosmopolitan launched a local edition in Mongolia, its 12th in Asia. The magazine is published in partnership between US-based Hearst Magazines and local publisher Irmuun Multimedia. If successful it could be a harbinger for other international publications.

Another recent newcomer is the Mongolian publication that models itself on The Economist, the UK-based news and business weekly. D. Bekhbayar, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, told OBG that it was founded to fill a clear gap in the market for accessible but specialised business information for a broad audience, covering areas that newspapers’ business pages and sector-focused issues (like mining magazines) do not.

Weekly journal Undesnii Toim, which has modelled itself after Time Magazine, began operations in 2006 and is owned by BNCA. The journal covers politics and socio-economic developments in Mongolia and has a circulation of 4000 per week and 187,440 per year. The publication is looking to increase readership and subscriptions in the coming years by focusing more on scientific and educational content.

The Mongolian Mining Journal published its first issue in November 2008 and is available in both Mongolian and English. The journal covers developments in the Mongolian economy and particularly in the mining industry. It also provides extensive analysis of the foreign investment environment.

RADIO: There were 72 radio stations in Mongolia in 2010, 67 of them FM stations, according to the PI. The medium has considerable reach, with almost a quarter of the population tuning in on a daily basis. There is only one truly national radio station, the MNB’s Mongolian National Public Radio (MNPR), which broadcasts 119 hours a week. Almost a quarter of its programming is music, with significant time also devoted to news, politics and culture. PI research suggests that radio is a particularly popular medium among those aged 19-29.

There are dozens of lively radio broadcasters operating in Ulaanbaatar and the regions, including additional MNPR stations such as the capital’s Radio 2 and 3. There are also a number of government-owned regional and institutional radio stations, as well as some operated by NGOs. The private sector dominates, however. The most popular station is Ikh Mongol 99.7, which reaches 30.3% of the population every week, closely followed by competitors Life (29.3%), Ineemseglel (19.1%), Royal FM (28.9%) and Best (28.4%).

ONLINE: Mongolia’s online media content, while not as extensive as that of other countries in the region, is growing quickly and presents both opportunities and challenges for operators in other media, particularly print. 45.3% of the population of Ulaanbaatar and 20.9% of those in the provinces go online every day, a high figure for a country with a theoretical internet penetration rate of 11.3%, according to the ITU. Some 63% of Ulaanbaatar’s residents and 36.5% of those in the provinces use the internet at least once a week and only a minority of Mongolians, 26% in the capital and 41.2% outside, do not use the internet at all.

The PI noted in is 2011 report that “there has been steady growth in online newspapers, magazines and virtual advertising.” Almost all major newspapers now have an online presence. In 2010 seven new online magazines were launched, while 10 print magazines launched online versions of their publications.

MEDIA FREEDOM: Mongolia’s media scene is lively and intensely competitive, and criticism of government policies is regularly aired. The 1992 constitution and 1998 Media Freedom Law enshrine freedom of expression and forbid censorship, rights that are generally respected by the government, according to Freedom House, an international NGO promoting democracy.

However, Freedom House only ranks Mongolian media as “partially free”, largely due to a lack of freedom of information legislation and tough data protection laws, and the use of libel legislation by the powerful against unflattering coverage. In recent years officials have brought a number of cases against the media, and now there is a degree of self-censorship, B. Indra, the editor-in-chief of the Mongol Messenger, a publicly owned English-language newspaper, told OBG.

Most major stations and newspapers are owned and backed by business groups, some of which are also linked to leading politicians. There is some concern in the industry that the rich and powerful, including politicians, use their stations to increase their influence. Some of the currently moribund television stations are expected to receive more investment and interest from their owners in the run-up to the 2012 election, as the proprietors use their media outlets to publicise their campaigns or preferred candidates.

OUTLOOK: New players continue to emerge on the Mongolian media scene, as investors look to reap the benefits of its growth, dynamism and influence. While the majority of outlets are small-scale, several big players lead in most segments. Competition is still high, however, and quality content and – increasingly – leverage of technology are important to stay competitive. Despite its small size – as recent developments demonstrate – the Mongolian media market is ripe for international investors and media looking to form partnerships.

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The Report: Mongolia 2012

Media and Advertising chapter from The Report: Mongolia 2012

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