ON PRINT & SCREEN

Colombia 2014 | TELECOMS & IT | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Ricardo Ávila Pinto, Director of Portafolio, on the impact of technology on media, reader profiles, and growth in online readership.

What have been your main milestones over the past few years?

We've been around 20 years and we're still on top in terms of readership and circulation. We've also improved our portfolio of products.

How do you think evolving technologies will affect your editorial in the near future?

Online content is already an intrinsic part of the future and will continue to be so. We have to take into account that our readers are much more tech-savvy. The percentage of tablet, smartphone, and computer owners among our readership is a lot higher than you see in the readership of other magazines. So we have to take that into account and grow in that particular segment. We'll start charging for our online content some time in 2014, because that's the trend now. That being said, the paper edition won't disappear in the foreseeable future.

“Online content is already an intrinsic part of the future and will continue to be so."

Through which platform do most of your readers access Portafolio?

We've seen 45% growth in access through smartphones in the last year. That's where we've seen the biggest growth. We want to set up a platform where people will have access to some free content, after which they'll start paying for content, and that platform will be accessible through all digital means. How they access the content will ultimately be irrelevant to us, be it tablet, smartphone, or computer.

What is your average reader profile?

Male, 35-50 years old, with a university degree or higher. Our readers are mostly car owners, take vacations, go on international trips, are heavy technology users, are mainly bilingual, and follow other newspapers and journals, both Colombian and foreign. Our media customers tend to be younger, but generally there isn't much difference between those who read our print edition or online content.

What has been the cause of your success?

We try not to report the previous day's news. We open the newspaper with something that we believe will be in the news for the coming days, weeks, or months. So we try to look ahead. Secondly, we have a very strong analytical section with very good columnists and commentators who provide spirited editorial content. This gives us a good mix of both coverage and analysis.

What is your competition like in Colombia?

There's very good competition. La Republica is a very fine newspaper, well-designed and aggressive, although with a different focus than our newspaper. Dinero is also I believe very well written, although it is not really our competition because we are a daily. But overall, a newspaper needs good competition to stay ahead, stay on top of its game, and remain focused.

How would you evaluate the freedom of the press in Colombia?

If you work for large media groups in Colombia, you have full access. However, if you work for small regional papers or radio stations, you are subjected to threats and life is much harder than it is for us in the big cities, where we have access to big advertisers and have large circulations. It really depends on what part of the media you work in, and at what level. Compared with the rest of Latin America, I believe Colombia has a high degree of press freedom. Sadly, there is a trend toward an increased repression of the press in many countries, including Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, and Nicaragua. That, however, is not the case here.

What is the significance of the Portafolio Awards?

These awards were designed for people whose work benefits their community and society. Portafolio was founded when we had a much more closed economy. Our awards were a way of giving recognition and exposure to companies that did things a different way. Nowadays, it has become one of the most respected awards in the country.

What is your opinion of the Colombian economy, and what do you think are the segments with the most potential for development?

I believe our economy is in much better shape than Colombians think it is. For years we've been used to hearing promises of building this and doing that, but they would often just never happen, so we Colombians have always been naturally skeptical. But now, for the first time, I do believe we will be undertaking major infrastructural projects and public works. Not just roads and highways, but also bridges, railways, dams, and a whole range of other projects. In terms of the exchange rate, I think that when the US Federal Reserve takes the appropriate decision, it will alleviate the pressure on maintaining competitiveness and go toward solving this mild case of Dutch Disease that we've been experiencing for some years now. Overall, I think the Colombian economy will continue to expand, and as it does I believe our readership will also grow.

Focusing on the ICT sector, do you see the opportunity for foreign investment?

Yes I do. We've gone through our learning curve, and we've seen some interesting public sector development. Broadband accessibility has really improved in most of the country. I think a little more competition is needed, because we have high prices for broadband access that increased competition would fix. I have high hopes for the beginning of 4G in Colombia. Regulation is also getting better, the Comisión de Regulación de Telecomunicaciones (CRT) was very feeble for many years, but it is stronger and more active now, and that will be for the benefit of the sector. I also have my concerns, though, such as a recent ruling on the part of the Constitutional Court, which I think made a huge mistake that sends out the wrong signals. But overall, I see more entrepreneurship now. I see young people doing interesting things and being successful, and that will have a snowball effect.

So what will Portafolio's role be in this climate of development in 2014 and beyond?

We'll be doing what we always do in terms of content and reporting, and we'll be using the latest and most popular platforms in terms of reaching our audience, focusing more and more on innovation.

What is the size of your operation?

We're still growing. Revenue is up 12% so far in 2013. Circulation is stable. Our online readership is growing. We have one of the top five economic and business websites in the Spanish-speaking world. We have 25,000 subscribers, and employ 15 full-time journalists. Additionally, we share some services with El Tiempo, including reports, photographers, and correspondents.

© The Business Year - January 2014