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Great opportunities

Finnmedia’s CEO demands improvements in media’s operational environment but urges the media sector to get active as well. For example, a regional approach and having strong trust in regional media among audiences are both resources that are not fully utilised in the digital environment.

“Media is not moaning about nothing. A media revolution and the subsequent difficulties are very real,” says Jukka Viitasaari, CEO at the Federation of the Finnish Media Industry, Finnmedia.

“Admittedly, media could take a more proactive role, in particular in terms of applying digital solutions. Many companies have themselves to blame. They simply need to find new digital – and other – ways of making money.”

You can tell from the way Viitasaari talks that he is used to provoking people and raising awareness of the opportunities offered by digital solutions, previously at the Federation of Finnish Technology Industries and since August 2015, at the Federation of the Finnish Media Industry.

Free money available

Viitasaari’s first point is to advise companies on taking advantage of the free development financing available. For example, the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation (Tekes) has launched innovation funding for media, which can be applied for without any specific deadlines, both this year and next year. Around 20 million euros have been allocated for this purpose. A few companies have applied for the funding but not as many as could have done.

“People at Tekes are genuinely sorry that media companies are not applying for the funding. They have promised to be very flexible in terms of their criteria. The funding is specifically aimed at promoting digital transformation, and media really should be more interested in using it.”

Viitasaari is used to provoking people and raising awareness of the opportunities offered by digital solutions.

Another form of funding is available from a somewhat suspicious source: Google. The media views Google as a thief of Finnish advertising revenue, but all the same, Google will grant 150 million euros to privately-owned European media companies for various projects through its Digital Initiative over a period of three years. Viitasaari thinks that this source of funding is well worth looking into even if it is just part of Google’s seeming ‘Mr Nice Guy’ campaign.

Advertising revenue from consumer groups

A communal approach and strong local media are the features that Viitasaari thinks media should take advantage of. He grows wistful talking about Jaiku, the social networking and micro-blogging service launched by Jyri Engeström and Petteri Koponen in 2006. It had a promising start – even on an international scale, but operations subsequently waned.

“The importance of community-based platforms was not understood back then. And very few similar services have been created outside of America. Spotify yes, from Sweden. It could’ve just as easily been set up by a Finnish company.”

The game is not completely lost, though.

“I can offer a tip for local media: platforms could still be built for local communities. Maybe they are not scalable for global use, but who says that newspapers, Kainuun Sanomat, for example, could not offer platforms for different communities such as mushroom foragers or stock breeders? Online solutions are so affordable that this kind of platforms could easily be made available for very small target groups.”

Local media and regional identity are still very strong in Finland.

“Providers would learn from each other, and working together would benefit everyone. It wouldn’t take long until the platform could be used for local advertising and other commercial social networking services.”

E-commerce opportunities for companies

Viitasaari mentions another Finnish success story that had great expectations – Fruugo, which was set up with many well-known partners who wanted to start an online shopping centre for online retailers. The project went under due to financial and technological challenges, and Finnish online retail business seems like a missed opportunity now with Zalando and others around.

“Still, business-to-business e-commerce is in its infancy. Its value is greater than in the consumer sector, and the Finns are good at working in the B2B sector, including payment systems, user identification and the entire Real Time Economy environment.”

“Media could build a variety of online features to accompany their services and provide platforms for e-commerce. In addition to selling their own papers, they could offer a platform for local entrepreneurs, who could set up various operations and local communities.”

Yes, communities. Using local communities in the digital world is still an untapped potential according to Viitasaari. Local media and regional identity are still very strong in Finland, and local media enjoy a great deal of trust.

“Companies should apply for the Tekes funding, get their specs right, and just do it. When one company succeeds, their success spreads to others. Large media companies in particular could use their resources to build a base on which smaller companies could develop their differentiated services. Some radio stations have already done this successfully using the Tekes funding.”

Kai Telanne