Euronews overhauls its broadcasting strategy in bid to become the unrivalled chronicler of Europe

Covering the most powerful media companies to the smartest startups, former Independent media editor Ian Burrell examines the fraught problem of how news is funded today. Follow Ian @iburrell.

A triumphant Emmanuel Macron

It has been a great week for Europe. A great European Union enthusiast, Emmanuel Macron, is president of France and there is revolutionary change at the continent’s biggest news channel.

Euronews, which boasts that its 3.3 million daily television audience in Europe is “more than CNN and BBC World News combined”, this week proudly restated its “mission…to try to help to create this European identity”, as it outlined a new “multi-cultural and multi-lingual” approach to reporting news.

Henceforward it will drop its traditional single video feed in favour of a dozen “customised editions” in languages ranging from Portuguese to Hungarian. Euronews broadcasts in Russian, Turkish, Arabic and Farsi to speakers of those languages inside the EU, and to audiences outside the 28 member states who are interested in European perspectives.

The result, claims Euronews chief executive Michael Peters in a long interview with The Drum, is “the first ‘Glocal’ media in the world”, combining niche national and language-based services with worldwide reach and the international outlook of a newsroom made up of 600 journalists of 35 nationalities.

Crucially, the staff working on each linguistic edition will be encouraged to promote multiculturalism by including diverse perspectives within their bulletins. So alongside the biggest world stories of the day, editors will cherry pick from a shared pool of around 200 more parochial reports made by Euronews colleagues, choosing those that have particular relevance to political and cultural debates taking place in their audience territories.

The intention, Peters says, is to create more understanding in a fractured world. “With this… multicultural and multi-perspective content that we offer to every single audience I hope that we will be able to open a little bit the minds of the citizens of every country,” he says. “[So that they] think that their debates, interests, concerns, troubles and problems are shared by others and that solutions have been found in other cultures for the same problems and debates. I hope that this will be a a new way of doing journalism.”

In times when nationalism is resurgent, the “Euronews Next” strategy seems both counter-intuitive and laudable. But, as any Coca-Cola marketer would tell you, there are good financial reasons for positioning a brand as a champion of human harmony. More, the provision of so many bespoke language editions within a single global news brand offers advertisers a unique platform for native content.

A home for 'All Views'

Peters, 45, who is German-born of German and French parentage, speaks with rare passion for a media owner. He says that in an age of “infobesity”, a news organisation’s role must be to “empower” its audience. This, he claims, is something most news channels do not do. Outlets such as France 24, RT, and Al Jazeera, he claims, exist to “serve the interests of one point of view”, often that of the state government that provides their funding.

The biggest news channels, he argues, are locked into a race to achieve “the largest scale, [and] to try to impose [opinion] and make people change their view”. Therein lies a “fantastic opportunity” for Euronews and its multiple-perspective editorial approach – under the slogan “All Views” – which he hopes can challenge post-truth politics by allowing viewers to escape the agendas of rival news channels and the “bubble” of their social media timelines.

Multiculturalism has become a dangerous and loaded term in UK media and politics. But Euronews, Peters says proudly, has “multiculturalism at the heart of our DNA”. It derives from having 24 shareholders of different nationalities (broadcast companies from RAI in Italy to RTE in Ireland). The 25th and largest (majority) shareholder is not European at all but a Egyptian billionaire media owner, Naguib Sawiris. His 53% stake has been the subject of some controversy.

Euronews has one other significant source of income. Based in Lyon, it was set up in 1993, the year after the EU was created by the Maastricht Treaty, and Brussels has been its greatest supporter, contributing up to a third of the channel’s annual budget and more than Euros 240m since it launched.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, is said to be a great fan of the output. Given Juncker’s comments last week that “slowly but surely, English is losing importance in Europe”, he will no doubt be disappointed that Euronews will later this year make its English edition a global “shop window” for the brand.

“It will be a presented edition, you will have talk shows and debates and anchors all the time,” he says. The English edition will also be a “receptacle” for the full diversity of Euronews content. “When we have a story about Syria you will have a Syrian journalist of Euronews talking in English about Syria, and at French elections we will have someone from the French newsroom speaking in English.”

The new Euronews will allow reporters and presenters to appear on camera in all its language editions, something not possible when the channel was a single video stream. That old approach led many observers to wrongly believe that Euronews was a translation-based service, read in multiple languages from a single script. In reality, it has always employed journalists of different nationalities to report independently – but they have been obliged to cover the same stories.

These substantial changes must be introduced without extra spending. Euronews, Peters says, does not have the resources of CNN. He hopes that by retraining 430 staff in a five-month programme, it can become “a more agile organisation” with journalists who can edit video as well as report and write blogs. The distribution model for Euronews is also innovative, requiring only one transmission room to host 12 services. The channel claims that its first steps “will be watched closely by the media industry as the possible model for all audiovisual media in the next years”.

Potential deal with NBC

Although it has a global daily online and TV audience of 40 million, Euronews is not well-known for breaking stories. It has satellite offices in Brussels, Athens, Budapest and Congo, and maintains correspondents in Washington and Cairo. But its position could change drastically with a proposed deal with NBC, in which the American broadcaster is looking to take a 25 per cent stake in the French-based company. Peters says that NBC is looking to “extend their brand internationally” but not as a direct competitor of CNN. “They clearly understand that the position of an American perspective of news in the world is already taken by another organisation.”

If concluded, the deal could be a happy partnership for both entities, he says. “I think this marriage with NBC is one of complementary expertise, between one media outlet that knows how to post-produce news in many different languages, and the expertise of NBC who know how to produce shows and make real productions.”

Euronews has built a reputation for pioneering the use of 360-degree filming in news, deploying the technology during coverage of the recent French election campaign. Duncan Hooper, digital editor-in-chief, says: "The technology is still in its early stages but already it can add enormously to a story – allowing viewers to be virtually present in the front rooms of French voters to hear about the issues that matter in their lives or to explore the desolation that surrounds the seed bank in Svalbard (Norway) where the diversity of the world's plant life is preserved.”

Carolyn Gibson, who Euronews recruited from BBC Worldwide to become chief revenue officer, argues that the channel’s model puts in a rare position to serve advertisers. Euronews has sales teams in London, Paris, Berlin, Singapore and Dubai. “We have particular strengths as an organisation that are unique, particularly that multicultural, multilingual audience approach which is a huge asset in developing a [native] content offer to work with advertisers.”

Peters rejects the idea that major shareholder Sawiris has too much power, insisting that he has never interfered in editorial policy. Even when Sawiris was the subject of international news interest himself – when he was so moved by the death of Kurdish child refugee that he mooted buying a Mediterranean island as a “state” that would support those fleeing war and persecution - Euronews did not cover the story.

The business model of Euronews is based on having a “clear USP” as an unrivalled chronicler of Europe, Peters says, and both Sawiris and NBC understand this. “We are truly European in our DNA. it’s not a political approach, it’s not a political view, it’s our business. We estimate that the role of the influential media on European affairs hasn’t been taken by anyone.”

Ironically, given the channel’s synergies with the EU, Euronews wants to cut its financial ties with Brussels. “We really hope to get rid of the dependence on the European Commission,” says Peters. “It’s not a question of vision or political influence, it’s a question of, as a private company, we know that having such a dependence on one client is a big risk for the future.”

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