Interview - Ashley Smith, Van Dusseldorp & Partners

Interview: Ashley Smith, Senior Analyst, Van Dusseldorp & Partners,
by Greg Tingle 15th April 2003

What are your key aims and objectives?

Essentially, Van Dusseldorp & Partners is an international digital media consultancy and business information group. On the research side - we look to help companies develop their digital media business strategies by providing relevant market research and consulting services.

On the events side - our goal is to produce unique and value added forums for our guests that focus on the real business ideas in the new media/convergence market, stimulate discussions and of course bring together people to network effectively! A key goal has been to attract a broad cross section of guests from the industry with a particular emphasis on bringing traditional media (broadcast, advertising etc) together with new media, technology and telecoms players - something we have more or less achieved. We're also attracting delegates from all over the globe.

Overall, we'd like to see ourselves as a key pan-European and now International player in driving the intelligence and development of the digital media industry. It's an exciting market - we want to see it prosper!

How did the company form?

Our CEO, Monique van Dusseldorp was working with the European Institute for the Media in Dusseldorf when the idea of forming her own company was first conceived. Monique perceived a heavy demand for independent research and market information in the then nascent new media sector. The company was launched in 1998.

What main event put you on the map?

I guess it would be our annual TV Meets the Web seminar series and more recently our work in the field of mobile based interactivity with media brands through our SMS Meets TV research and seminar series.

TV Meets the Web is celebrating is 5th Anniversary this year - and is held every May in Amsterdam. The name is something of a misnomer - it is essentially a digital media seminar and networking gig with a strong focus on media convergence. From humble beginnings, we now draw several hundred executives from all sectors of the industry. We are also experiencing strong growth in our editorial division with and TV Meets the Web online newsletters.

What is the main growth area?

Again, it would be seminars and the editorial content. We are getting more and more requests for focused seminars/workshops. Geographically, we are expanding to Asia and the US with events planned for later this year. Asia markets are particularly exciting from a new media perspective - 200 million mobile phone users in China already, Koreans with over 50% broadband penetration!

Explain the different divisions, and what they each do?

As mentioned, the business is essentially divided into research/consulting services, seminars and editorial/PR services. PR services have entered into our business plan as we now have access to over 50,000 industry contacts including a large number of journalists specialising in the IT/broadcast/new media sectors. We are very good at bringing potential business partners together.

What is the profile of your typical customer?

Our customers are a real mixed bag. Research clients are generally looking to launch services in one or more regions and are looking for market insights, business models or even simply lists of potential partners and/or competitors. On the events side - apart from our own seminars we generally get requests to produce events in local markets for companies without such expertise. We have worked for both large and small media players, from Dutch broadcasters to Interactive Advertising associations to publishing groups! Our newsletters are read by up to 8,000 industry professionals from every sector imaginable.

How has the internet helped and hindered you?

Mostly helped - we are a big believer in online marketing for products and services and have considerably scaled back on investment in offline channels. Our Editorial division is successfully run in an electronic version only - we have even experimented with delivering research reports electronically with DRM solutions attached.

All of our events have corresponding websites and we find a lot of traffic is coming through these sites to seek general information, view presentations and even find potential business contacts. Our latest innovation allows customers to register for more information about our company's services which is then automatically fed into the database.
Overall internet based/e-business services present an economical and effective solution for us. Of course when the web goes down for an hour or so - you can find me screaming and cursing like anyone.

What have been some of the biggest milestones?

The first time we were reported in The Economist - my phone was ringing for a week!

How did you get your biggest deals?

We get a lot of our deals through our events - people see that we have a very strong network of contacts across Europe and beyond and that most importantly we can provide business information/research services to complement this.

Who are your biggest customers?

At the moment - broadcasters and television productions houses. Among these groups there is now a heightened awareness of the need for a coherent and comprehensive digital media strategy. Great for groups like us. As an example, we recently ran a major event in Lisbon for TV Formats Producers and Distributors. We were amazed at the lack of awareness on their part as to how much interactive concepts can add to the value proposition of their programmes.

What's your unique selling proposition?

Several things: Firstly that we are truly pan-European and international in our focus. Many research groups focus on one particular market, this also applies to events. We have staff from a dozen nationalities in the office at present with all levels of practical experience and knowledge. As mentioned, our database and industry contacts are seen as attractive to many. This certainly assists in gathering relevant and topical information on digital media market trends and models. As we are not a classical product vendor, we also like to hope that objectivity in our work is a core component. If a market is failing - we will not overhype it. Also, we're in Amsterdam. People love to come visit us for all the delights of this city. Enough said.

How many staff do you have?

Currently we have around 15-20 staff. For our industry newsletters, there is a network of freelance journalists in each European country that regularly contribute articles.

Who is the most well known media "bigwig" you have met at the expos?

Don't really like to drop names. I did get drunk with the ex keyboard player of 80's band OMD once. That was a big night.

What is the biggest compliment you have received?

Personally - that I was an Australian and didn't act like Les Patterson.
Professionally - That our events are very well run and not afraid to deal with the hard issues and discussion points. I sometimes get kudos for my speaking presentations.

What is the most impressive piece of technology you are dealing with?

Some of the next generation mobile phone handsets are amazing. Also, Set Top Box technology is moving forward in leaps and bounds. In theory - all of your audio visual content could soon be received, displayed and stored in these devices.

What is the most popular product and service, and why?

In our field, SMS is really the big item at the moment. In most markets it has surpassed iTV as a mode for interacting with media brands. Over 70% of Europeans have mobile phones and are already very comfortable with sending text messages. This is leading to all kinds of hybrid TV concepts and a lot of interested parties scrambling to make revenues. MMS services have just been launched and 3G is 'around the corner' - should be an interesting period. On the back of this, our recent SMS TV events and research reports have been extremely well supported. We have been fielding calls from all over the globe and this has led to our decision to run more events in new markets.

What is the future of ITV?

Ah - the million dollar question. In short - much depends on where you are located and what you are used to. In Europe we are certainly not seeing a consistent marketplace for interactive services. Countries like the UK, France and to a lesser extent Spain are considerably ahead of other countries in terms of both services offered, uptake by consumers and revenues being generated. You have to consider the dynamics of each market. Take the UK for instance - only a handful of free to air television channels enabled pay TV provider Sky to build a customer base of over 5 million subscribers during the 90's. This was assisted when Sky bought the rights to many 'top shelf' television properties, including the Premier League soccer. Sky then offered their Digital TV service in the late 90's which included iTV functions - most subscribers converted and you had a mass market to develop iTV services.

To contrast, here in the Netherlands, most consumers are used to receiving up to 35 channels, more or less for free through cable. As a result, to try and introduce pay TV based Digital TV services has proved very difficult. Hence iTV services in the Netherlands are still at an immature level. Digital TV is clearly linked with iTV and therefore much depends on the successes of broadcasters and governments in bringing DTV to the 'masses'. In Australia, the update of pay TV has been troubled to date - this is clearly impacting on DTV and iTV adoption.

Other factors influencing development include the adoption of 'open' technology standards and government actions in getting the set top boxes to the people. In my point of view, the iTV services that will prosper in the short term include 'enhanced programming' (voting, additional information available onscreen to broadcast program), games and information services such as weather and news. T-commerce will struggle and Video on Demand is hampered by the release 'window' which means the movies on offer you have probably already rented at the video store not so long ago.

What business are you doing in Australia; directly or indirectly?

We are not doing a lot of business in Australia - I will say that several Aussies and Kiwis do pop up at our events. We are in regular contact with some of the Australian parties that are working to boost the new media industry there - particularly iTV. Here we assist with information exchange and try to introduce people to the right contacts.

What's next for Van Dusseldorp & Partners?

At a strategic level, we're really looking to expand geographic markets and win new clients. After TV Meets the Web in May, we will run several events on Mobile and Internet based markets along with involvement in New Media workshops in Eastern Europe. Autumn (Spring for you guys!) sees us take our successful SMS Meets TV series to China and the US.

What other information would you like to get out there?

Really just that we're happy to work with partners anywhere - for producing focused events in local markets, market research assignments and so on. From an Australian point of view, I think a lot can be learnt from the successes and 'mistakes' of overseas players. Be nice to work with more Aussie groups and a chance to maybe visit home more often!

Finally here's to the Brisbane Lions grabbing three premierships in a row and the Broncos winning the league. Bet you won't publish this interview now.

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