Mapping Digital Media is a major international research project on the global impact of new media technology on the production and consumption of news. This project is initiated by the Open Society Media Program. As they describe the program:
The Mapping Digital Media project examines in-depth changes across the media landscape, aims to build bridges between researchers and policy-makers, activists, academics, and standard-setters across the world.
Covering 60 countries, the project examines how these changes affect the core democratic service that any media system should provide—news about political, economic and social affairs. The aim of the MDM project is to assess the impact of these changes on the core democratic service that any media system should provide.
This research project takes in approxmiately 60 countries. We are proud to contribute to this project from The Netherlands, together with co-researchers Thomas Poell, Andrea Leurdijk and Levien Nordeman. The research was conducted in 2011, and the report published in 2012. You can download the Mapping Digital Media The Netherlands report here. For other country reports as well as some excellent background studies, see the Mapping Digital Media homepage.
Executive Summary Mapping Digital Media The Netherlands
Th is is an exciting and diffi cult time for independent journalism and civil society in the Netherlands. Th anks
to unprecedented opportunities for new ways of doing journalism, connecting to audiences or mobilizing
civil society, and getting one’s voice heard, a new media ecology seems to be taking shape.
However, the challenges are great. Although newspapers still reach signifi cant readerships, they are face
grave economic threats from decreasing subscriptions and sales, and shrinking revenue from advertising.
“Shocklogs” are making sectors of public debate less civilized, and intensifi ed competition is changing the
tone of much news reporting. Th ere is a looming threat of concentration in the distribution market, mostly
by foreign companies such as Apple and Google.
The rise of PR infl uence and wire stories, meanwhile, undermines original news-gathering, and poses a particular danger to independent news at the local level. Th e means of countering these threats have not yet realized their potential, and may never do so. Investigative journalism on blogs exists, but is for most part still marginal, crowd-funding and other innovative techniques are promising, but it remains to be seen whether they can off set the negative developments.
Public broadcasting has so far preserved its traditional standards, but there is no guarantee that it will be able
to fill any of the emerging gaps—due to budget cuts and the threat of having to curtail its internet activities.
In 2006, the Netherlands became the second country in Europe (after Luxembourg) to switch off analog
terrestrial television. Digitization caused no diffi culties, since only 1.5 percent of households depended on
terrestrial analog transmission. Most households already had a subscription to (analog) cable. No public
subsidy scheme was developed; the average cost of a set-top box (€150) was considered to be aff ordable.
By the end of 2010, 58.5 percent of households had access to digital television: a lower fi gure than in
neighbouring countries. Digital cable is more expensive than analog cable subscriptions with packages of 20
to 25 channels. A key incentive for people to subscribe to digital services is the triple-play deals now available
(with internet and telephone).
Television is still the most widely dispersed media device in the Netherlands. In 2010, 98 percent of all
households had at least one television set. Viewing has been fairly constant at an average of three hours per
day over the last fi ve years, with on-demand viewing increasing slowly but steadily.
Th ere is been negligible if any decline in TV news audiences as a result of digitization. Seven mainstream
media organizations account for 80 percent of all news consumption, suggesting that while digital media
have to some extent changed the way news is consumed, they have much less impact on who provides it. Yet
the number of total voices is, of course, on the increase. However, it remains the case that most opinions are
only received by the wider public if and when they are amplifi ed by conventional media.
Public broadcasting remains by far the most widely used news source across all platforms. (In 2007, it
reached 78.1 percent of the population and amounted to 44.5 percent of daily news consumption.) NPO,
the national public service broadcaster, off ers a 24-hour digital cable news channel, around 10 other digital
cable TV channels and some mobile news services.
Despite right-wing political attacks on “leftist” public service broadcasting, Dutch society is mostly supportive.
Th ree quarters of the population believe public broadcasting provision is important for the country. It is also
mostly trusted by its audiences, even though there are some groups in society—young people, ethnic minorities
and supporters of populist parties—which feel unrepresented. Younger generations value commercial news
providers slightly more than public ones, though they are less willing to pay for news.
Th is dominance of news does not extend online, however, although the public broadcasting portal (omroep.
nl) is one of the most visited sites in the Netherlands (currently in the top 30) and reaches 60 percent of the
population. However the most popular online news source (Nu.nl) is owned by Sanoma, a Finnish publisher
that also owns a majority stake in three Dutch television stations.
Th e drastic cuts in the public broadcasting budget, promised by the current government, may aff ect the
broadcaster’s ambitions to remake itself as a production center in and for Dutch society, linked with other
public-interest institutions. Its position as a dominant news provider is further challenged by proposals to
limit public broadcasting’s online activities. (A strong lobby for such limits, set up by commercial newspaper
publishers, has struck a chord with the current government.)
Regional broadcasters only play a minor role in television news provision. In 2010, their combined market
share was 2.0 percent.
Newspapers—always an important source of news in the Netherlands—continue to reach critical mass
audiences. Although circulations are falling under pressure from freesheets and online outlets, the quality
press still reaches over 2 million readers, or 12 percent of the population, with other titles commanding a
circulation of 3.7 million. Regional newspapers reach over 4.5 million readers, or around 27 percent of the
Radio lost its prime importance as a news platform in the 1980s, long before digitization.
In 2009, 91 percent of households had a computer and access to the internet. Broadband reached 77 percent
of all households by 2009. Th ere is a clear generational divide in internet use. People born before 1965 spend
less than 10 percent of their total media usage on new media. People born after that spend more than 20
percent of their media time on new media, teenagers and those in their twenties even more. As elsewhere,
research into consumption of online news is not far advanced. In 2005, 49 percent of active internet users
visited news websites. Commercial television news is notably weak online.
As a whole, Dutch media still off er a reasonable quality of news, current aff airs and opinion, although
journalism is increasingly commoditized and infl uenced by the PR industry. Th ere are 150,000 communication
professionals in the Netherlands—excluding marketing and advertising employees. Th is is ten times more
than the number of professional journalists. While they do not all work directly with the press, they infl uence
the news agenda and how stories are framed. Th is development is not caused by digitization, but refl ects the
same wider trend that erodes professional standards.
Independent journalism faces exciting as well as diffi cult challenges. Digital media have opened up a range
of new opportunities. Th e explosion in the number of platforms where people can express themselves, along
with the rise of User Generated Content (UGC) and social networking websites, has changed the dynamics
of news provision and public debate. Th e mainstream outlets have lost their monopoly as the moderators and
guardians of public debate.
Yet, although a few innovative weblog sites such Sargasso.nl have succeeded in getting investigative stories into
the mainstream media, most of the new approaches from online media have yet to prove their relevance and
commercial viability for news production. An exception is the infamous ‘shocklog’ Geenstijl.nl, which has
succeeded in attracting a wider audience as well as wider mainstream media attention with its unconventional
and anti-authoritarian approach.
Meanwhile, editorial budgets are under pressure, and this has consequences for costly forms of journalism
such as investigative reporting. And research has found that newspapers rely increasingly on newswire
bulletins from services such as the Netherlands National News Agency. As in other countries such as the
United Kingdom, there are particular concerns that quality local journalism is becoming unviable.
Th e press is under severe fi nancial pressure. (Forecasts say that most newspapers will be loss-making by 2013
under their current business models.) Will they succeed in fi nding new business models? And what can be
done about the decrease in investigative journalism that both the NVJ and the VVOJ are seeing, especially
at local level? Will new private funds emerge? Will crowd-funding provide alternative means of income?
Will the state step in—as has happened in France—to subsidize media functions that can no longer support
themselves? Answers to these and other questions have yet to emerge.
For more information on the research program see the MediaPolicy website