Despite its open borders and its central location between big European countries, the Netherlands (with a population of 16.3 million) has its own tradition with respect to both press and broadcasting, a tradition that is closely related to the country’s overall sociopolitical structure during most of the twentieth century. In the early years of the twenty-first century we notice, however, that this “Dutch model” is eroding rapidly and beginning to follow a more “European” or even “global” media model, in which concentration and internationalization have become paramount.
In terms of Hallin and Mancini’s typology (2004), the Dutch media model fits into the “democratic corporatist” category, relying heavily on the role of organized social groups in society, as against a more individualistic concept of representation in the “liberal” model and considerable levels of politicization, state intervention, and clientelism in the “polarized pluralist” model.
The Dutch press has a strong tradition of private enterprise, and the basic model of Dutch press policies is, as elsewhere in the western world, one of freedom from state intervention. The Dutch press tradition goes back to the seventeenth century, when the relatively tolerant and prosperous Dutch republic served as a safe haven for newspapers that could not be published in other, more absolutist countries (e.g., Gazette de Leyde, 1677–1811). At the end of the nineteenth century the abolition of the “newspaper stamp” (1869), the introduction of the rotation press, and the rapid rise of literacy finally created favorable conditions for the modern mass press. Next to the traditional liberal-bourgeois papers, calling themselves “neutral,” so-called “tendency papers” arose, representing the “pillarized” (denominationally segregated) Protestant, Catholic, and socialist emancipation movements. In the 1960s we notice a major trend toward concentration, triggered by rapidly decreasing revenues as a result of the introduction of broadcasting advertising and of the erosion of the old socio-political pattern (“depillarization”). In the period between 1970 and 2004 the number of autonomous newspaper publishers was further reduced from 35 to 9, and the number of editorial independent titles from 54 to 31 (Bakker & Scholten 2005, 18). The market share of the four largest newspaper publishing houses rose from 54 percent in 1974 to 95 percent in 2000. In most regions and cities the pluralism of several “pillarized” newspapers has been so reduced that they are “one-paper cities.”
This process of press concentration has raised serious concern, both in the media sector and in society at large, as to its potential negative impact on press freedom and pluralism. The most important instrument for support for newspapers in difficulties is the Bedrijfsfonds voor de Pers (Netherlands Press Fund), founded in 1974. It supports newspapers on the condition that the loan is temporary and that the profitability of the newspaper will eventually be restored. Another important instrument of press policy is restrictive rules on press mergers. After a fierce political debate, a gentlemen’s agreement was made in 1993 – following earlier suggestions by the government and the Press Fund – to forbid mergers that would lead to any publishing house having a market share of over 33.3 percent, and to monitor market shares between 20 and 33.3 percent. Only five years later a new, general competition law replaced this internal code and installed a new supervising body, the Nederlandse Mededingingsauthoriteit (NMa, Netherlands Competition Authority). But in practice, the limitation of the market share seems to have worked well; after the most recent takeovers each of the three major publishing houses has a market share of close to but not more than 33 percent.
All national newspapers are now in the hands of one or two more or less specialized newspaper holdings (four out of five national newspapers are owned by PCM, and one is owned by Telegraaf ), and the regional newspaper market is to a large extent in the hands of just one company (Wegener). All these three companies happen to have an overall market share of about 30 percent, the politically acceptable maximum. The total circulation of paid-for newspaper copies is stagnating recently and penetration is decreasing, especially among young households. On the other hand the new, free-tabloids Metro (Swedish based) and Sp!ts (owned by Telegraaf ) have proven to be a big success, especially among young people.
Radio And Television
Broadcasting in the Netherlands started as early as 1919. The Dutch public broadcasting system is unique in the sense that broadcasting as a public service is in the hands not of private corporations or national organizations, but of associations of viewers and listeners. In the second half of the nineteenth century, Roman Catholics and Calvinist Protestants, and later also socialists, opposed the hegemony of the Liberal-Conservative establishment of the time. Their efforts to achieve emancipation for their followers led to the creation of “pillars”: parallel, closed compartments in society for each belief or ideology, which applied their own way of thinking and living to all areas of life, and created a socio-cultural “pillarization” ranging from their own political parties and trade unions to schools, hospitals, and leisure associations (Bardoel 2007). When radio started up in the 1920s, NCRV (Protestant), KRO (Roman Catholic), VARA (socialist), VPRO (liberal Protestant), and AVRO (neutral) were established, broadcasting over two radio stations, Hilversum 1 and Hilversum 2. Advertising was not allowed, and until World War II there was no license fee; the organization’s members paid for radio broadcasts.
The introduction of television in 1951 was left to the radio broadcasting organizations. The first television channel, Nederland 1, was soon followed by a second, Nederland 2, in 1964. After numerous attempts to introduce commercial television by legal and illegal initiatives and even the fall of a government in 1965 on this issue, a political compromise was laid down in the first Broadcasting Act (1967). First, commercial television had proven to be a bridge too far, but instead commercial block advertising between programs was introduced. Second, next to the traditional pillarized broadcasting, new organizations that could prove they represented a social stream in society and had substantial membership were allowed to enter (and leave) the system. Airtime on television and radio was allocated on a proportional basis, corresponding to the number of members of each association. The first new entrant, TROS in 1966, was the successor of the pirate station TV North Sea, previously operating from an offshore oil platform. Later an orthodox Protestant broadcasting association (Evangelical Broadcasting Association [EO], 1970), intended as a counterweight to growing secularization, and a popular but illegal pop station also operating from the North Sea (Veronica, 1975) joined the system. The third component of the compromise implied the strengthening of the cooperation in Hilversum through the foundation of NOS (Netherlands Broadcasting Corporation). NOS began to broadcast a “joint program” (news, sports, events, etc.), to pool studios and other technical facilities, and also to become the coordinating body for policy matters and international issues.
The 1980s also witnessed ruptures in the system, this time caused by external challenges. A cable penetration of over 90 per cent opened up new opportunities for commercial interests to undermine the public hegemony. During the 1980s, national initiatives to introduce commercial broadcasting in the Netherlands, by publishing houses such as VNU and Elsevier as well as independent producers, were denied access to the market by the omnipresent Christian Democratic Party. Ten years later, in 1989, an attempt by Luxembourg-based RTL was successful thanks to the liberalizing nature of the European “Television without Frontiers” directive (1989). The newly adopted Media Act of 1988, which attempted to modernize the broadcasting system but left the public monopoly intact, had to be almost immediately overhauled directly after its publication. On October 2, 1989, RTL-Veronique, soon to be called RTL 4, began broadcasting via satellite-to-cable. Within a year it had become the market leader in the Netherlands. The market share of the three public television channels fell from 85 per cent in 1989 to 50 per cent in 1994. RTL 4’s success acted as a catalyst for the large number of private television channels that emerged in the 1990s, the first of which was RTL’s second channel, RTL 5, in 1993. Another international player, SBS, also entered the market in 1995 with the launch of SBS 6, and in 1999 a second SBS channel was launched, Net 5. The market for independent production companies also emerged rapidly. One of these was Joop van den Ende’s company, which brought together program formats, stars, and production potential under one roof. After a merger with the equally successful John de Mol in 1994, Endemol Entertainment was created and became the largest independent producer in the Netherlands, and a major global player with a catalog of highly successful formats including Big Brother.
At present three large parties dominate the television market (Bardoel & Van Reenen 2004; Commissariaat voor de Media 2005). The public broadcasting system, HMG, and SBS have three nationwide channels each. Commercial television in the Netherlands is owned by foreign companies that enjoy minimum program obligations, other than the provisions of the “Television without Frontiers” directive. There is a total of 19 national channels, 10 of which are generalist and mainly operated by the three large groups; the other 9 are thematic channels operated by other commercial broadcasters. In 2005 John de Mol, one of the founders and by this time former owners of the Endemol production company, launched a new channel, Talpa (later renamed “Tien” or “Ten”), which has a market share of about 5 percent.
New Media And The Internet
The Netherlands is a very densely cabled country; 95 percent of homes with TV are connected to cable, and 5 percent have satellite dishes. As a result of the liberalization policy of the 1990s, most local public cable nets were sold to specialized private cable companies. At present the three major operators, UPC, Essent, and Casema, cable 86 percent of homes with TV. In 2003 Casema was sold to AngloAmerican investors, which leaves only Essent still in Dutch hands. To counter the distribution market dominance of the cable operators, the government wants to stimulate competition from other infrastructures like satellite and digital terrestrial TV. The DTT operation Digitenne started in April 2003, but audience interest was modest.
Pay-TV has been offered since 1984 in the form of subscription television, but after 20 years the present provider, Canal Plus, was still not profitable. In 2000 its digital package started, with a roster of European channels, thematic channels, the public and private Dutch stations, and a classic movie channel. The number of subscribers to the digital services is slowly growing.
According to the latest figures about 65 percent of the Dutch have access to the world wide web, and about 75 percent have access to a PC. Internet usage in the Netherlands is among the highest in Europe, in third position out of the 15 European countries covered. Time budget research shows that PC and Internet usage is at the expense of both listening (radio, records, etc.) and reading and not so much at the expense of watching TV. Only among the young (12 –19 years) is watching television considerably reduced.
For public broadcaster NOS, the Internet and thematic channels – 17 by now – are the spearheads of its new media policy. Therefore, the Association of Netherlands Newspaper Publishers (NDP) and the commercial broadcasters have put in a complaint with the European Commission about the “excessive support” the Dutch government gives the Internet activities of public broadcasters, whereby press organizations are forced to reduce their own Internet activities. Commercial television channels have shown less interest in developing full-blown Internet strategies, but they have been keen to add phone calls, SMS messaging, and games to television programs, which sometimes bring in more profit than the original program itself. The first and most famous example of such a multimedia production is Big Brother, first aired in the Netherlands by Endemol.
- Bakker, P., & Scholten, O. (2005). Communicatiekaart van Nederland [Communication card of the Netherlands]. Amsterdam: Kluwer.
- Bardoel, J. (2007). Dutch television: Between community and commodity. In D. Ward (ed.), Television and public policy: Change and continuity in an era of global liberalization. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, pp. 467–513.
- Bardoel, J., & van Reenen, B. (2004). Medien in den Niederlanden. In: Hans Bredow Institut (ed.), Internationales Handbuch Medien. Baden-Baden: Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft, pp. 475 – 493.
- Commissariaat voor de Media [Netherlands Media Authority] (2005). Mediaconcentratie in beeld:
- Concentratie en pluriformiteit van de Nederlandse media 2004 [Media concentration in the picture: Concentration and pluriformity of the Dutch media 2004]. Hilversum: Commissariaat voor de Media.
- Hallin, D. C., & Mancini, P. (2004). Comparing media systems: Three models of media and politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.