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“Even though we have to fight for every minute of the consumer’s attention, we’ve made huge strides”

DPG Media exceeded its financial expectations in 2023, with highlights including the launch of a new radio station and strong digital growth. But there was also a wage dispute in the Netherlands. CEO Erik Roddenhof reflects on an eventful year.

​​​​​​​Last year, you predicted that 2023 would be challenging, but DPG Media has once again exceeded its own expectations.

“That’s right, we surpassed our projections for 2023. Revenue and profit even ended up at similar levels to 2022, while the digital share of our income saw rapid growth as well. The final result was also boosted by lower-than-expected paper prices.”

Your main concern is always digital growth. How is DPG Media doing on that front?

“The number of digital subscribers to our news media brands grew sharply, by over 10%, while the total number of subscriptions remained stable. DPG Media currently serves more than 2.9 million subscribers. The user base of our VTM GO streaming service expanded by 14%, and revenue from online services increased by 10%. As a result, total digital revenue grew by over 9%. Even though we have to fight for every minute of the consumer’s attention, we’ve made huge strides. Meanwhile, we’ve managed to maintain our sizeable market shares in television, our Flemish radio stations had their best year ever, and Qmusic and JOE together claimed a
26% market share in the Netherlands.”

Digital value is a recurring theme in this annual report. What do you mean when you use this term?

“Our strategy focuses on increasing digital value, maintaining our position in the more traditional media markets, and ensuring operational excellence within our company. This strategy is aligned with the reality of today’s world, in which consumers are increasingly consuming media digitally, which means that advertisers are also shifting their focus to the digital realm. Digital value creation starts with the consumer. The more often we can get consumers to use our services, and the longer we can get them to stay, the more willing they’ll be to become subscribers – and the more attractive they’ll be to our advertisers. That’s why we need to offer both consumers and advertisers more value for money.”

The future of television will be a mix of live TV and streaming

And how did DPG Media do that last year?

“By launching ‘From Other Media’, for example. Premium subscribers to a news title in the Netherlands can now access every other DPG Media title online. In Belgium, they have digital access to our magazines. We’re also expanding our streaming activities and online services. At AutoTrack, we launched a new service that allows you to buy a used car directly online – you can even have it delivered to your door, with all the guarantees you’d expect. For VTM GO+, we introduced a new subscription option that allows you to watch ad-free, and to binge programmes before they’re broadcast on the VTM channels. I expect us to add many new services to our platforms next year as well.”

Publishers in the Netherlands were in the news last autumn because of a collective bargaining dispute. How do you look back on that?

“It’s terrible to find yourself in a conflict with your own people – the same people who produce our content every day. But the collective agreement in the Netherlands applies to the whole industry, not just DPG Media. The initial negotiations, which I myself wasn’t part of, didn’t lead to a solution, so I’m happy that DPG Media was finally able to force a breakthrough, and that we managed to find a good solution just before the end of the year. Still, we need to avoid situations like these in the future, because no one benefits from them.”

Some people grumbled that the company wasn’t investing enough in the brands it was built on – the newspapers.

“We often talk about our investments in digitalisation. Which makes sense, because that’s our key objective. But at the same time, a lot is being done to maintain the quality and affordability of our traditional media outlets – if I can call them that. In recent years, for example, we’ve worked hard to replace our subscription systems with a new, future-proof alternative. I’m very happy that we completed this project in 2023, which allowed us to close an old data centre as well. We’ve also invested in the quality of our newspaper delivery service by purchasing a fleet of electric vehicles for our delivery staff. Meanwhile, we’re working hard to improve the cybersecurity of all our platforms, printers and systems to protect our customers as well as our operations. So behind the scenes, a lot of money and attention is spent on all our customers, including our newspaper readers.”

DPG Media also launched a new radio station and made a takeover bid for RTL Nederland, which must have been a euphoric moment for you.

“We never tried to hide the fact that we wanted to be active in television and streaming in the Netherlands, and that we were keen to expand our radio activities. These are media types that have been successful for us in Belgium. With the proposed acquisition of RTL Nederland and the launch of JOE, we believe that we can achieve these ambitions.

The future of television will be a mix of live TV and streaming on the new big screen: the smart TV. RTL Nederland is very well positioned, with its own programmes and channels, and its Videoland streaming platform. We’re very much looking forward to shaping the future with RTL Nederland, VTM and Streamz in Flanders, and RTL Belgium in Wallonia. By investing, learning and working together, each of these brands can become more successful in its own market. DPG Media believes that well-made local content always finds its way to consumers.”