A declining advertising market, a substantial structural rise in paper and personnel costs and growing digital newspaper sales, which to date are insufficient to compensate for the decline in print sales, all contribute to a fall in the results of the Mediahuis news activities in the Belgian market. Mediahuis, the media group behind the news brands De Standaard, Het Nieuwsblad, Gazet van Antwerpen and Het Belang van Limburg, wants to anticipate this and restore its profitability in the Belgian market through an accelerated transformation and digitisation of its core business, the news media.
The objective of the company is to adapt to the new digital and economic reality and to accelerate its evolution towards a digital first, customer-driven and efficient organisation with an increased profitability.
To this end, a transformation and optimisation plan consisting of three pillars was developed.
- An improved digital customer experience based on the four strong news brands.
The four strong brands (De Standaard, Het Nieuwsblad, Gazet van Antwerpen and Het Belang van Limburg) will evolve further, and at an accelerated pace, into a digital service with optimal customer experience through further focus on innovative journalism via the news sites, apps, video, podcast… This radical focus on customer experience will not only lead to a growth in the number of paying digital relations but will strengthen the long-term relationship with the reader as well. Mediahuis will also strive toward an improved digital service for the advertiser. An enhanced data range, further automation and digitisation of the sales process, combined with a unique and personal customer-driven approach must ensure a rapid growth of digital advertising revenues.
- A digital first strategy, linked to making the printed version profitable.
In recent years, Mediahuis has already taken major steps in the digital transformation of its news brands. Clearly opting in favour of digital first could help to speed up things from now on. Given the importance of print within its portfolio, Mediahuis nevertheless continues to believe in the strengths of the printed newspaper. The downward trend in revenues, however, shows that its approach to print should be more efficient. Mediahuis will continue to offer a strong quality product to the reader of the paper version but will implement an internal reorganisation in order to achieve this in a more cost-effective manner. This explicit choice makes it possible to further invest in the digital acceleration of the news brands, making maximum use of the scale of the Belgian-Dutch group.
- The increase of operational efficiency.
In order to grow into a full-fledged digital company, Mediahuis will concentrate on simplifying, improving and automating its processes in all their aspects, without compromising the quality of its news brands or the selection of products for its customers.
De Standaard will move to the centre of Brussels and the other activities of Mediahuis, which today are situated in Groot-Bijgaarden, will be centralised in Antwerp.
At the end of 2020, the editorial staff of De Standaard will move from Groot-Bijgaarden to the centre of Brussels. De Standaard will move to Central Gate, also known as the Shell building near the Central Station. This action is consistent with the mobility shift Mediahuis wants to make, aiming for locations that are easily accessible by public transport. The other departments that are currently operating form Groot-Bijgaarden will be fully integrated in the head office of Mediahuis in Antwerp. As already decided earlier, Het Belang van Limburg and TV Limburg will move into the new building in Hasselt in the coming weeks.
Gert Ysebaert, CEO Mediahuis: “In recent years, we have taken some major and great steps and have succeeded in guiding our news brands through the digital transformation in the best possible way. Nevertheless, today’s reality threatens to overtake us. If we want to remain a leading media company in the long term and hold our future in our own hands, it is essential to anticipate this and rapidly transform and digitise our news activities. The reader is expecting a strong digital news service and optimum customer experience. It is our duty to provide this without compromising the printed paper. However, we shall have to realise this in a more efficient way. With its location in the centre of Brussels, De Standaard, as a leading Flemish quality paper, invests in ensuring a place in the political heart of our country and Europe.”
Simplifying, optimising and automating the processes and the choices linked to a digital first strategy may well lead to the company having to phase out 82 FTEs (full-time equivalents). These would mainly be part of administrative, commercial or support services. It is the intention to minimise the number of redundancies and Mediahuis will continue to support the transformation of its organisation through continuous training and retraining of its employees.
The employees of Mediahuis have been informed today of the transformation and optimisation plan, and negotiations with the social partners were initiated to consider how this plan can be achieved in the most socially acceptable way.
The plan for an accelerated transformation and digitisation only relates to the Belgian news activities and as such does not have an impact on the other activities of the Mediahuis group in Belgium and the Netherlands.