@ AOP: Interview: Annelies Van Den Belt, CEO, Sup: Looking Back At ITV

Annelies van den Belt, a flying Dutchwoman, quit as ITV’s (LSE: ITV) online head in April for upstart Moscow-based LiveJournal owner Sup. I caught up with her when she revisited London for Wednesday’s Association of Online Publishers conference.

ITV’s online target Twelve months ago, ITV set a goal of reaching £150 million annual income from online by 2010 – a mightily lofty target that this August was postponed by a whole two years. Wasn’t that target crazily ambitious, in retrospect? Van den Belt: “I was not part of the team that put together the revenue models. We’ll see, by 2012, whether it’s too ambitious or not. I believe in setting clear goals and targets for any business. It’s definitely a challenge; in a growing market, you need to set yourself a challenge.” A redesigned ITV.com has lately been making in-roads with its catch-up VOD. “It’s quite extraordinary to see how much they’ve changed in four months’ time. I can’t see their video because I’m overseas, which annoys me, but I love their products.”

Friends Reunited: And what of the once-mighty, now increasingly marginalised ITV social network’s decision to drop its lucrative premium subscription stream in favour of ad support? “If you Google me, one of the things you’ll find is something I said at a conference – ‘the free ride is over‘ – because I was a strong believer that newspapers should charge for news products like the crosswords and the archive, which is actually happening now seven years later. Freeconomics does work, so time is up (for premium). Good luck to them.”

So what’s up at Sup? The Championat and Gazeta publisher has seen a Russian internet scene booming this year, with more to come: “RuNet is growing significantly. We see broadband penetration in Moscow at 50 percent, outside Moscow and St Petersburg is scheduled to be over 50 percent by 2011. So there are huge opportunities to grow. But the ad market is still in its infancy.”

Your part in the puzzle? Before Sup and ITV, van den Belt also headed digital operations for News International, Telegraph and, in Moscow, Hearst; that’s where she picked up the language. “I think there is quite a bit I can bring to that market, in terms of my experience from the UK. But, at the same time, I also run in to things like mobile, where they are actually further along and moving faster than here. It’s not like I’m going in there teaching them how to do things, I’m going in there to combine best of both worlds. I left ITV because this opportunity was too good to turn down and because it combined my experience of having lived there, speaking the language.”