“We achieved exceptional results
in exceptional times”
“The need to accelerate
our digital activities
remains as great as ever.”
How was 2021 for DPG Media? CEO Erik Roddenhof (50) takes stock.
Profit growth of 22 per cent in the middle of a global pandemic – how did you manage that?
“It’s about more than just the Covid crisis. At a time when there are a multitude of opinions and ‘alternative truths’, a time marked by a kind of overall resentment, there’s a strong need for reliable, independent journalism. Consumers value our efforts. We see this in the reach of digital media, which gave a real boost to our advertising income. But the rise in digital subscribers is even more revealing: up 15 per cent from 2020. We now have over 800,000 digital subscribers for news media and magazines.”
So world news determined the result?
“Not on its own, because 2021 was also a good year for our audio-visual activities. VTM, and especially its streaming service VTM GO, booked very impressive results. All our radio stations extended their reach, and the outstanding achievement by Qmusic Nederland was one we won’t forget anytime soon. Q cornered a market share of nearly 20 per cent, making it by far the biggest radio station in the Netherlands. All down to excellent programming and a strong team. Success with viewers and listeners translated into turnover, which largely bounced back to pre-pandemic levels – and in many cases higher still. We grew by 15 percent compared to the previous year.
In 2021, DPG Media delivered exceptional results in exceptional times. For the second year in a row, all our employees and freelancers had to find ways to collaborate from home and through video links. From my own personal experience, with four kids at home, I know how hard that can be at times. But we did it again, thanks to the real dedication and perseverance of our team. I’m proud to be the CEO of such an organisation.”
“Look at the growth in digital subscribers: up 15 per cent”
You talk about resentment, but nowadays the mood can often be downright threatening.
“We have seen the threats directed at our journalists become more frequent. The low point for me was the day we had to evacuate our News City office in Antwerp and move the TV news broadcast to another location in response to a threat. I’m proud of the fact that in barely an hour, the editorial team succeeded in putting together a complete news broadcast from Vilvoorde, but also deeply saddened that this should be necessary in order to do our work. We make no concessions whatsoever on that score and do everything possible to ensure that our people can do their work safely.”
Back to the results: was the strong growth in turnover mainly achieved online?
“Yes, to a great extent that was down to the digitisation of our media. That has become a strong focus of investment for us. In 2021, we launched our own DPG Network and further developed DPG Ads. With DPG Ads, we brought an independent and reliable ecosystem for advertisers to market, an alternative to the ad systems run by the big American tech companies. At the beginning of 2022, DPG Media took out a loan of €100 million with the European Investment Bank as part of a €250 million planned investment package in digitising our media over the coming years.
Digitisation itself is not new, but the speed at which it is being implemented is as high as ever. Consumers are increasingly reading, viewing and listening online. Despite the knocks to their credibility, the US digital giants continue to grow, and consolidation is still the buzzword in today’s media market. Our digital transformation strategy in recent years has proved successful and we will continue to pursue this course in years to come. The need to accelerate our digital activities remains as great as ever. It’s a strategy that brings our media together in far-reaching cooperation and the search for synergies. The benefits of this approach enable us to reinvent our media in digital form and develop appropriate business models, as we have done recently at Libelle and Donald Duck. It should also set us up to develop new business lines, focusing on the growth of our Online Services, such as Independer, e-commerce and live events.”
How are those Online Services developing? And what makes DPG Media believe so strongly in activities other than news?
“Our Online Services, with brands such as Independer, Mijnenergie.be, Nationale Vacaturebank, Tweakers and AutoTrack, help consumers find sound information and advice, and bring supply and demand together in a way that makes comparisons easy. It’s an approach that helps consumers make the best purchases. A role like this is part of our company’s DNA: our media inform and inspire consumers reliably and independently. These services were a feature of our newspapers long before the age of the internet. Consumers value these services, as demonstrated by the fact that we’ve been growing for years, with an increase of over 7 per cent last year alone. It was a disappointing year for e-commerce and live events due to Covid. We were unable to organise any events, such as the Libelle Summer Week, and e-commerce ticket sales stagnated due to the limited range of activities on offer. We expect this market to recover to some extent in 2022, but we shall have to wait and see.”
Will DPG Media break financial records again in 2022?
“As I said: 2021 was exceptional. Looking ahead, we expect 2022 to be a more challenging year. The increased cost of paper, the general inflation rate and the huge shortage of staff – particularly for delivering our newspapers in the Netherlands – will put pressure on our operating expenses and our results. But rest assured, we’re maintaining our current course with great conviction.”