Digital revenue strategy at Mediahuis is shaped by its merged history

By Robert Okpu

Stockholm, Sweden


Starting off as the product of a merger 10 years ago, followed by very rapid development, understanding the phrase “reader revenue as a change catalyst” has become pivotal, Emmanuel Naert, digital transformation director at Mediahuis in Luxembourg, told attendees at the INMA Media Subscriptions Summit in Stockholm earlier this month.  

In 2013, Mediahuis was created through the merger of two Belgian publishing houses and is now active in six countries. After the original merger in 2013, there followed the onboarding of: NRC Media in 2014, Mediahuis Limburg Radio (southern Netherlands) and regional TV Druck in 2017, Mediahuis Nederland (TMG) in 2017, Mediahuis Luxemburg (SPL) in 2020, Mediahuis Noord (NDC) in 2020, and 70% of Medienhaus Aachen in Germany in 2022.

“Changing perspectives” has become a key phrase on the journey towards digital growth and the reader revenue that (hopefully) follows.

“We like to talk about perspectives,” Naert said. “Perspectives are a little bit about what Mediahuis is about. We talk about perspectives, we give new perspectives, we compare data. We do benchmarking exercises, we bring in best practices. And that’s how we try to make steps into digital transformation.”

Mediahuis' "count back model" features the key measurements of its subscriptions strategy.
Mediahuis' "count back model" features the key measurements of its subscriptions strategy.

The Mediahuis portfolio now includes more than 30 news brands (including digital-only brands) that have more than 1.7 million news subscribers, including The Irish Independent, Sunday Independent, and Belfast Telegraph in Ireland; The Luxembourg Times, De Telegraf, and Nordhollands Dagblad in The Netherlands; Aachener Zeitung in Germany and Gazet van Antwerpen in Belgium; Medienhaus Aachen in Germany.

“Aachen is a region situated in the west of Germany. Like other colleagues working on a local market, we are limited. And in our case, we also have the language barrier,” Nele Toye, chief revenue oifficer at Aachen, explained. “We are at the Dutch border and the Belgian border, so scaling the market is not the issue but rather getting the around one million people that are in our region to subscribe.”

Like summit co-moderator Ruth Betz commented during the discussion, this merger is not at a case of the “big fish eating the small fish,” but rather one of fruitful collaboration. That said, Mediahuis is pushing the team at Aachen to transform as an organisation.

“There were a lot of initiatives in place,” Toye said. “We were participating in Table Stakes Europe, and we tried to go digital first head first on how we do work with the paywall. But we saw that digital growth and digital reach, especially on all local markets, is the big issue also when it comes to performance on the subscription site.”

Mediahuis' content exchange strategy works to solve the problem of peak traffic.
Mediahuis' content exchange strategy works to solve the problem of peak traffic.

Toye and Naert identified 10 important tracks that were important for the so far successful, but ongoing, journey: merging titles, digitalising print subscribers, B2C benchmarking, the “cockpit” (an Aachen workflow involving an integrated editorial and advertising team), the count back model, traffic, digital first workflow, content exchange, group e-paper solution (Twipe), and group editorial platform (CUE).

But the big questions are still out there to be answered:

How much can we scale this?

What kind of performance do we need on the digital product?

What is the future of print?

One decision that was made quickly: to give free access to basically all the print subscriber base. 

“It turned out to be a good step — especially looking over performance on our Web site,” Toye said. “Data volume, learning from the performance of the Web site, and on the second part of this, facing bigger challenges on the distribution part in Germany. We are convinced that we will need to digitalise as much as possible to solve those challenges that will come up.”

About Robert Okpu

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