Christian Van Thillo:

Investing in future growth

Since the beginning of this year, our group has become the 100% owner of Medialaan, the audiovisual company that has Belgium´s largest commercial television and radio stations in its portfolio and that is also active in mobile telephony. Thanks to a concentration of forces with our other Belgian activities, for the first time we can build a genuinely integrated multimedia company with television, radio, news media, magazines, digital services and telecommunications. It is a fantastic prospect, and an important strategic step for the group. For many years now we have been active in most media segments, but so far we had never had the chance to deploy all of these media and the related competencies for our future growth.

Together with the great expansions in the Netherlands of 2009 and 2014, this could well be the most exciting thing we have ever done. But it will also be a challenge to get two very different companies to fuse together into a coherent whole. That is what we will be working on this year.

The collaboration between the three Persgroep companies in Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark is also an important point of attention. We see excellent synergetic advantages in digital development, IT, programmatic advertising and marketing, but the exchange of ideas and experiences is just as enriching for strengthening our companies.

Everything we are undertaking now forms part of a great transformation process that began in 2016 and that should be completed in 2020. Our sector is going through a fundamental change caused by the ever-accelerating digitalisation. People make their media choices as a function of user-friendliness and user experience. Some people want to receive their news, information and entertainment exclusively digitally, others only want it in analogue form, and the largest group combines the two. Advertisers are following this trend, and so we are developing our media on all platforms. The trick is to optimally combine online and offline so that we can continue to serve all of our customers as well as possible within an attractive business model. This requires major investments and it is a very delicate balancing act, but we believe that our strategy will begin to yield a profit within three years. The condition for this is that our digital activities grow substantially year after year, and that we can optimally structure our organisation for the future. This dual transformation is the centrepiece of our strategy. It all revolves around smart innovation and efficient business management.

People have never watched so much television, but they are doing so differently than in the past.

People have never watched so much television, but they are doing so differently than in the past.

In 2017 we took important steps in the transformation that we envisage, and you can learn about them in this annual report. We are seeing interesting new developments in the market. For example, it is striking that more and more people are willing to pay for quality journalism on the internet. We already have almost 300,000 digital subscribers, and reader surveys show that they attach great value to more background, opinions and interpretation, offered by professional journalists who work for media that they trust. We are therefore investing heavily in the digital platforms of our newspapers, which are thus developing into the most important professional news media that are worthy of being trusted by their readers. The revenues from digital subscriptions are still not sufficient to offset the drop in circulation of the printed papers, but within a few years it should be possible to bring the margin on our total reader revenues back up again. This is of fundamental importance, given that it represents almost two-thirds of our turnover.    

In our television activities, changing viewing habits is the most important point of attention. People have never watched so much television, but they are doing so differently than in the past. Delayed viewing and video online are very popular. Here, too, we want to serve all viewers to the best of our ability and therefore we are investing in new video platforms and online video content, made for mobile use. Our news sites and apps generate a massive reach and will also be actively deployed as a distribution platform for online video. We see excellent growth prospects here for the coming years.

We want to be the ideal partner for our advertisers in their search for the right marketing solutions, and we have all the necessary media in house to achieve just that.

More than one-third of our turnover comes from advertising, which is a market that has seen a sweeping transformation in just a few years´ time due to digitalisation. Since last year, online media have surpassed television as the world´s most important advertising channel. Media companies are getting serious competition here from dominant global players such as Facebook and Google, which receive most of the digital advertising revenues thanks to the immense reach of their digital platforms, data and technology. Programmatic advertising, or the automated purchase of digital advertising space, is gradually starting to become the standard, and Facebook and Google, thanks to their technology, have succeeded in controlling the entire value chain. Naturally this evolution is worrisome, but we see opportunities to substantially strengthen our position in this market. Our digital reach continues to grow vigorously and we are investing large amounts in data and technology where we were not yet on the same level as the big boys. Things are changing fast here, and advertisers can now pinpoint their target group with us as well. An added advantage is that they can do so in a context where commercial messages have the greatest effect. Therein lies the major weakness of social media. Fake news, disinformation and hate messages are proliferating on worldwide internet platforms, and that fact is becoming ever more problematic. Happily, the importance of reliability, quality and transparency is growing and these are the elements we wish to use in making the difference for our customers.       

Despite the spectacular growth of online media, traditional media remain very important in the marketing strategy of our customers. Marketing has become much more complex than before, and more than ever our advertisers require information and advice in order to make optimal use of their resources as a function of their business objectives. That also has a fundamental impact on how we serve our customers. We want to be the ideal partner for our advertisers in their search for the right marketing solutions, and we have all the necessary media in house to achieve just that.

2017 was a good year financially, with an EBITDA of 216 million euros and a net current profit of 109 million euros, which put us a bit below the record year of 2016. Given the high reorganisation charges and start-up losses of new initiatives, we are very satisfied with these results. In 2018 we expect to return to financial growth, but the group´s further transformation is the absolute priority. I am tremendously grateful to all of our employees for their energy, ideas and unremitting efforts. It is fantastic to be able to lead so many enthusiastic professionals who love their jobs, in a sector that we like to believe is and shall remain the most beautiful in the world.

Christian Van Thillo
CEO De Persgroep

Farewell to Mediafin

It was with a heavy heart that we said farewell this year to our participating interest in Mediafin, but we can look back on a beautiful adventure with great satisfaction. Together with the media company Rossel, with which we had already worked together closely for many years, we purchased L´Echo in 2003 and then De Tijd two years later. With an ambitious and enthusiastic team we brought the two media together into Mediafin, a company whose goal was to become a multimedia leader in financial and business journalism. That was our mission and it proved to be an unparalleled success. Dirk Velghe, a Persgroep man from the very first hour, immediately took the lead and, together with his close-knit team, built up the company stone by stone into what it is today.

The passion for the financial-economic life is translated every day into fascinating, lively newspapers that reveal, clarify and interpret like no others. The luxury weekend magazine Sabato is one of a kind. What Mediafin has to offer digitally is far ahead of the competition. Mediafin’s performances as a company are also quite respectable. Thanks to a highly customer-oriented focus, love for journalism and careful cost control, the company succeeded in booking excellent results year after year – which also provided us with the resources necessary to continuously innovate. A company is worth what its people are worth, and that is exactly why Mediafin’s future looks very bright. It was an honour and a pleasure to be able to work with so many talented people.

© 2017 - 2018 De Persgroep
Made with passion @Comfi
© 2017 - 2018 De Persgroep
Made with passion @Comfi