Television is by far the most popular type of media in Serbia. In 2015, a typical Serbian TV viewer spent an average 315 minutes per day in front of a TV set according to data from AGB Nielsen. Television viewing builds up steadily throughout the day, reaching more than 40% of the population between 8pm and 11pm.
It all started in 1958 with state-owned Television Belgrade, which later launched the Second Channel in 1972 and the Third Channel in 1989. The Serbian broadcasting system became more diversified only in the 1990s and 2000s. Today, there are more than 250 TV stations (82 local stations, 27 regional stations, 5 national stations and over 100 cable stations) with a weekly reach of 6,9 million people.
However, this high number of TV stations relies on a relatively small amount of advertising revenue (the estimated value of the TV advertising market in Serbia in 2015 stood at € 87.7 million), while licensing fees paid to the state are high. This makes the entire TV sector financially unsustainable and highly competitive forcing broadcasters to favor cheap entertainment programs over high-quality news production. As a result, reality shows are booming in Serbia. For instance, Happy TV, which has a national terrestrial frequency, has become extremely popular by airing a reality show called ‘Parovi’ (Couples) which is continuously breaching the Code of Ethics as it contains promiscuity, sex, violence and hate speech. According to the EBU survey from March 2016, Southern European countries (Serbia included) show the lowest degree of trust in TV.
Digitalization of the television signal in Serbia was completed in the summer of 2015, putting an end to an almost 10 year long process. It gave citizens an unlimited selection of television channels, with clearer and sharper image (HD), higher quality of sound and a number of additional services, such as subtitles, delayed program viewing and electronic shopping. This issue has been discussed in Serbia since 2006, when an agreement was signed in Geneva and the state committed to carry out a transition to digital broadcasting. The process took as long as nine years and Serbia - due to a shortage of free frequencies, legislation as well as modest funding - remained one of Europe’s last countries with an analog signal.