Belgian media planning shared digital content passport

Fresh from apparently wrangling online content fees from Google last month, Belgian newspaper websites will, in 2013, launch an industry-wide platform to take back their readers.

Major Flemish- and French-language newspaper publishers, magazine publishers and three TV broadcasters in the country have teamed to use Media ID, a common platform for user registration and management, reports the national De Morgen.

Created by Flemish government-funded innovation research institute iMinds, which claims to have “mobilized the Flemish media sector on an unprecedented scale”, launch is penciled in for an April test, followed by a September full launch.

Media ID appears primarily to be created for registration, allowing publishers to better understand and profile individual consumers. Publishers in the last couple of years have become more interested in leveraging data about their readers — although services like Facebook, Google  and Twitter let users log in to such third-party sites, those sites do not own all the user data.

But Media ID also supports payment. In keeping with the current global trend, participating media houses will variously begin limiting free access to web content and requiring payment for more of it.

Both Corelio and Persgroep will stop republishing articles from their newspapers online for free. Broadcaster Vlaamse Media Maatschappij will use Media ID to power part of its iWatch catch-up TV service, Pond has confirmed it will use it to charge micropayments for episodes and VRT wants to leverage Media ID to offer viewers customisation but not charges.

Sticking together

Such industry-wide cooperation is more common in some non-English-speaking countries than in markets like the UK, where animosity between intensely competitive publishers reigns and previously scuppered a News Corporation attempt — labeled Project Alesia — to build a common paid digital news aggregator.

We have already seen the Project Piano payment system launch to provide paid access to small parts of publishers sites’ with one bill in Slovenia, Slovakia and Poland, albeit with few indications of large-scale success.

But initiatives like Media ID in Belgium appear to have created consensus in a country that is itself divided between Flemish- and French-speaking regions.

In 2012, Belgian papers launched GoPress, a jointly-owned kiosk for delivering digital editions of newspapers and magazines for individual prices. Media ID would extend their digital payments cooperation to web content.

Google as giver

And the publishers’ recent supposed victory over Google creates the conditions for their increased chance of success.

In 2007, a court ruled that Google did not have the right to run story excerpts Belgian newspapers’ websites. Google duly pulled the newspaper sites’ out of Google News — ironically, much to their chagrin. They later struck an agreement to restore that content in mid-2011 despite ongoing tensions.

But in December the sides reached a new agreement in which Google will pay the publishers €5 million, supposedly through advertising on their properties, in order to settle the dispute. This means that, whilst newspapers’ excerpts will remain accessible on Google News, publishers are monetising their Google relationship on two fronts — both in income from Google and through the traffic that exposure through Google will bring to their soon-to-be-paid websites.

Ironically, however, part of the agreed olive branch was Google’s assistance in powering paywalls and subscription models for the papers — likely using its Google Wallet system. Now it seems the publishers are picking their own vendor.