The Netherlands


“Content is not an Item that Interests Politicians”

What E-content means in The Netherlands:

A: It is hard to define e-content. However, it is easier to describe it in its historical perspective. In The Netherlands, the first e-content project was launched in 1967. Of course, e-content as term did not exist at that time. The term ‘information’ was more common and ‘content’ existed only in the print environment as the table of contents. But in 1967, Mr Pierre Vinken, later the chairman of Reed Elsevier, was involved in a medical company named ‘Excerpta Medica’. This company made abstracts of scientific medical publications, entered them into a database, attached key-words to these abstracts and published them online and in print.

What is the current status of e-content in your country, including national e-content development across all the sectors of the industry?

The Dutch Internet market is well developed. All categories are covered. E-biz was a major area before the dotcom crash. E-government has been given a real incentive in such a way that all municipalities now have a site. Yet, in The Netherlands, search engines and directories are the top sites. They are followed by the public broadcast site (www.omroep.nl), the site of the newspaper De Telegraaf (www.telegraaf.nl), and the eldest and largest portal ‘Planet’ (www.planet.nl).

Which e-content area is best developed in your country?

Even before the official introduction of the Internet to consumers, the academic community started using it through the facilities of NSFnet. But the private sector has been aggressive since the inception of consumer Internet in The Netherlands. It is only from 1998 that the Government started to get interested and take initiatives such as establishing Government sites and municipalities’ sites. This initiative was followed by Kennisnet (Knowledge Net), an initiative for primary and secondary schools.

Please describe the progress of e-content development in your country.

The Netherlands has an Internet penetration of over 80%. There has been a constant growth since 1993. Since the introduction of ADSL in April 2002, the penetration of ADSL has grown to 25%. As The Netherlands is also the best cabled country in Europe (92 %). The cable network has been made ready to provide fast Internet access. For content, this has consequences as it is changing from ‘text plus illustrations’ to music, video and broadcast sites. Now companies like Yeahronimo (www.yeahronimo.nl) are looking for broadcast content such as national and also international soccer and hockey games.

Please describe the progress of e-content development in your country.

The Netherlands has been a country with an extensive content industry even before the advent of the Internet. Three of the largest international publishers (Reed-Elsevier, Wolters Kluwer and VNU) were located in the country and they started their internationalization in 1980. An internal Dutch language market delivers 11 000 book titles and reprints every year. The publishers have had a bad time changing their policies. In scientific, technical and medical content, Reed Elsevier has come out well; Wolters Kluwer appears to have missed the boat. VNU had to diversify heavily and change from being a magazine publisher to being a business data company. So, when Planet Internet, backed by the incumbent telephone company KPN, appeared on the market as a portal, it was greeted by many users. Several attacks on its position have been undertaken, amongst others by local newspaper publishers, but they have never succeeded. The Government has injected 20 million euro into the Internet initiatives of the public broadcaster. This has not been greeted by everyone as it was seen as unfair competition especially for the commercial broadcast companies. One of the latest initiatives is the project ‘Memory of The Netherlands’ (www.geheugenvannederland.nl), which is intended to be a virtual network of the cultural collections of The Netherlands. The site is also of interest for educational purposes.

In 1970, I started to work for a publishing company which, as the second publishing company in The Netherlands, started to use a computer to assist editors in their encyclopedic content work. So at this time, content was limited only to digital text. By 1980, the meaning of content was changing. Besides text, digital drawings and pictures came into focus. In the USA, the first encyclopedia came online and the All American Encyclopedia with text and pictures was experimentally published on a video disc by the American subsidiary of VNU. In 1985, a friend asked me whether he could swap music files over the telephone, which at that time had a speed of 300 Kb. So, the end of digital textual information had arrived and the spectrum of multimedia was nearing, but text, image and sound were still different worlds. By the beginning of the 90’s, integrated digital text, images and sound arrived. Multimedia productions on CD-ROM began to make their presence felt and the word ‘content’ was heard, but not widely used. The diversity of ‘content’ also increased. On disk it was no longer only games, but the wide variety in printed books was reflected in the assortment of CD-ROM products. In 1993, there were more than 5,500 CD media titles available worldwide (with 147 titles being available in The Netherlands). Sony even went so far as to hijack the term Electronic Book for a mini disk and player. By 1993, the Internet made its entrance in The Netherlands but text dominated the first year of the Internet. By 1994, this changed to the integration of text, images and sound. When portals were introduced, content categories became natural, ranging from news to travel, from auctions to books. The Dutch newspaper publishers attempted to compete with other Dutch language portals but they lost out. It was the subsidiary of the Dutch incumbent telecom operator KPN, Planet.nl which became the established portal site. When the stage of the Internet was reached, the technical definition of ‘content’ (integration of digital text, image and sound) became more important. On the other hand, for the first time, the emotional side of content was questioned. Did content on a CD-ROM or the Internet move the user by its breathing interaction, tense graphics and sweet audio? The CD-ROM in particular became a carrier for touching titles such as the international productions ‘Ceremony of Innocence and Svetlana’. Besides the emotional side, the social aspect is becoming an aspect. What is the social value of content? Does it influence the behaviour of the users? Do users use the Internet to further their own case? An example is the site of the Ugandan women who set up a network for women only. Another example is the use of the Internet for economic prosperity for the community. Also, e-government can be put under this category. Thus, ‘content’ is no longer limited to a technical definition of digital integration, but has also emotional and social aspects.

What have been the major bottlenecks in the development of e-content in your country?

‘Content’ is not an item that interests politicians. There are some reports on the subject but content is not seen a cultural or economic item. This has consequences for the way copyrights of content are treated. Also, the creative side of content is not stimulated with concrete measures. Only recently, a competition, EUROPRIX.nl, was organized by the multimedia trade organization OPPO-MMBO to select products and services for their content and creativity. One of the bottlenecks is the slow liberalization of the telecommunication area. In The Netherlands, the liberalization started at the end of the 80s. However, even now, in 2003, the incumbent telecom operator KPN has the largest market share in the fields of fixed and mobile subscriptions. Besides, its behaviour is rather monopolistic. Recently, the company announced that it would give ADSL free to schools for three years, thus wiping out competition for the next three years for other companies active in this field. However, a judge decided this was unfair competition. Another bottleneck is the politicalization of fibreglass broadband. This type of broadband has been greeted by politicians, but for the wrong reasons. Broadband for them is the symbol of knowledge; more bandwidth means more knowledge. Yet, they are not putting their foot where their mouth is; so there is no money in order to make fibreglass broadband available to rural areas and deprived city neighbourhoods.

In developed countries ICT has become part of daily life and e-content development is primarily left to the initiatives of individuals or organizations. On the other hand, in less developed countries, the development of e-content is largely dependent on ICT infrastructure. Please give a detailed analysis of the situation in your country.

In The Netherlands, e-content is considered to be part of the ICT sector as computers are needed for displaying e-content. So far, the Dutch content industry has been unable to prove its own cluster which has arisen in the common area between computing, telecommunication and publishing / broadcasting. According to a survey in 2002, the cluster would have 4,569 multimedia companies with a total of 15,000 employees.

How would you describe the ICT scenario in your country? Please describe it in terms of infrastructure, penetration, acceptance and policies.

The Netherlands is a well developed ICT country. It likes to see itself as a guide in the field of technology. More than 90% of the 7 million households in the country have a computer at home, of which 80% have an Internet connection. There are some 1,000 computing companies writing software and selling hardware.

How do you see the future of e-content development in your country?

In The Netherlands, there are three kinds of Internet: fixed line Internet, broadband (ADSL and cable) and mobile. The fixed line will die out and be replaced by broadband in the next two years; even broadband with fibreglass and speeds of 10 Mb will become regular; yet the fixed line content of text with illustrations will remain. Broadband is now the fashion in The Netherlands. ADSL is delivered to homes but cable is also delivering high speeds. The content for broadband is becoming broadcast content: music, movies and broadcast transmissions. Mobile content is still present to a large extent in the business area, except for MMS. A soap on mobile has been undertaken and is having some success; yet it is a niche. Most of the e-content is still developed for fixed line Internet. Mobile content will, in most cases, remain a scaled down version of fixed line Internet.

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