Sanoma’s digital transformation gains momentum

Sanoma House in Helsinki

Sanoma House in Helsinki

Last week Sanoma announced the FY2013 results. To be frank they were mixed, with online and mobile sales growing but print media in decline. The vocabulary turned classical: annus horribilis, Utopia, and per angusta ad augusta, could be heard in English, Finnish and Dutch conversations during the week. As is often the case with mixed signals, the good news has been somewhat drowned out by the more negative headlines throughout the year.  Yet Learning had a good 2013. And after a slow start to the year the overall digital platform has gained momentum and performed particularly strongly in the final quarter.

I always find it tricky blogging about financial results given that Sanoma is a listed company. But now that we have announced the results, I’d like to call out a handful of highlights on digital in Finland, The Netherlands, Learning and early stage innovation at Sanoma in 2013, drawing on the published materials.

As a reminder, the core strategy of Sanoma rests on three pillars: i) connecting consumers with content and brands, anywhere, anytime; ii) delivering powerful marketing opportunities to advertisers through our reach and consumer insight; and iii) providing personalized digital learning solutions to pupils and teachers.  Digital is clearly an integral part of that strategy.

Finland

Our share of the online media market grew by 5%-points to almost 40%.  Our online advertising revenues grew by 18% over the previous year and digital consumer sales grew by almost 30%. Digital subscriptions at Sanoma’s single biggest brand, the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, grew by almost 40% to 160,000 (on a total of about 355,000). Furthermore, digital sales at our second biggest brand Ilta-Sanomat grew by about 40%, whereby digital revenue gains now appear to be exceeding print losses; this terrific performance also secured a lead for Ilta-Sanomat over Iltalehti in terms of visitors. We also saw early success at magazines with the Donald Duck library reaching 12,000 subscribers.

Our market-leading position in recruitment got even stronger and we regained leadership in terms of visitors in real estate.  Finally, we made a great start with e-commerce service MSO.fi with more than 120 retailers already on board.

We have seen strong growth in usage via mobile devices and of online video and this is where we have registered our fastest growth.  By the end of 2013, over 50% of all pageviews on our Finnish network came from mobile devices, with mobile visitors growing by over 100% and pageviews by close to 150%.  Correspondingly, mobile advertising sales grew by around 180%Online video advertising sales grew by over 30% and the weekly reach of video platform ruutu.fi by 25%.

The Netherlands

comScore ranks Sanoma #4 of the big 5 in The Netherlands with 8.1 M unique visitors (MUV) in December 2013  – behind Google, Microsoft and Facebook (12.7, 10.7 and 9.9 MUV, respectively), but ahead of eBay (6.6 MUV). Other Dutch media groups are also represented in the top 20, but lack the reach of Sanoma. The state-subsidised NPO, and privately run TMG, De Persgroep and RTL Groep, registered a reach of 6.2, 5.3, 4.7 and 4.4 MUV respectively in December.

NU.nl, the leading news site by visitors and strongest media brand in The Netherlands and a cornerstone of Sanoma’s digital network, further strengthened this position in 2013 delighting readers with more than 10.000.000.000 pageviews, almost exactly 50 per inhabitant per month! Pageviews have more than doubled in the last three years and in the meantime more than 75% of views are made from mobile devices.  NU-apps have been downloaded more than 5 M times so far.

In common with Finland, video also grew strongly (about 40%) totalling 152 M at video platform zie.nl.

Lindanieuws.nl – an extension of the highly successful magazine brand Linda. – came with a new version that resulted in a tripling of the number of visitors to 1.2 M and a doubling of advertising sales.

Digital sales via automated trading increased by almost 25% – a serious money-maker for our digital network.  Our performance-based business had a solid year. In particular, sales at the recently acquired FashionChick doubled, partly driven by international expansion. The introduction of curated search at directory Startpagina.nl has been a runaway success and one of the most rapidly growing digital product innovations we have made in recent years. Net sales of e-commerce service SBC grew by 25%, with sales of home deco performing particularly well with a growth of nearly 50%, And soft launches of new brands leef.nl (health) and yixx.nl (jewellery) and of the international launch of price comparison site kieskeurig.nl in France and Poland have helped to ensure a healthy pipeline of new business lines that we expect will support the growth of the performance-based assets in the coming years.

Learning

At Learning, there are also good data to evidence our progress to a more digital future. Much of this relates to bringing content to life by making it more functional through digital. For example, in The Netherlands, more than 1,000,000 pupils in primary education work with Malmberg’s software, reaching 60% of all schools.  In a single week in November, more than 1,000,000 exercises were made on homework platform Bingel.be in Belgium. And in Finland, teachers and pupils logged into Sanoma Pro’s new learning environment 1,900,000 times, with 768,000 hours of active use. In the meantime 800 e-books have been published in Sanoma’s five Learning countries on the BookShelf platform provided by Young Digital Planet.

In addition to transforming its core business, Sanoma Learning is working on providing learning services to the home market with a new online tutoring proposition for mathematics: StudySteps. This has been soft launched in Belgium and The Netherlands, tested in Poland and Russia, and the first results are promising, with 110,000 exercises made in the test period.

Furthermore, Sanoma Learning is exploring the possibilities to build a position in emerging markets and has amongst others made an agreement with the People’s Education Press to provide digital services to support the provision of e-learning in China. It’s early days, but there is clear demand for Sanoma’s high quality Learning capabilities abroad.

Innovation

SanomaVentures had an exciting year, receiving over 400 requests from external startups, which ultimately resulted in 9 investments, bringing the total to 15 to date.  In aggregate the business/financial performance of this portfolio has been promising and these ventures currently employ over 161 people. We expect to make a similar number of new investments this year.

Building on the success of the series of in-house innovation accelerators, we have now launched an Innovation Lab to foster the ventures that are borne out of the accelerators and as a test ground for new ideas from the core business.  We currently have a full pipeline of concepts, prototypes and early stage ventures and have set ourselves the goal to have established five ventures in the next 3-5 years that have an annual revenue potential of € 10 M+. In 2013 we ran four accelerators (Content, Commerce, Talent and NU-lab), two of which were open to external participation. Through these accelerators we trained about 500 Sanoma employees on the lean development methodology and created 15 functional prototypes, about half of which have been given seed funding for further customer validation.

Finally, we have significantly increased our investments and human resourcing on data science including hiring a team of 20 data scientists last year to boost our analytics and insights capabilities across Sanoma. We are currently working on developing the common “big data” enablers, as well as specific cases on consumer sales, online advertising and new business models. We expect to make a quantum leap in our insights capabilities in the coming years.

Good progress on the journey

Overall, reflecting on the three pillars of Sanoma’s strategy i) connecting consumers with content and brands, anywhere, anytime, and ii) delivering powerful marketing opportunities to advertisers through our reach and consumer insight and iii) providing personalized digital learning solutions to pupils and teachers, I believe the highlights above show that digital has made a big contribution in 2013 to progressing this strategy. Respect to the teams who have made this happen and thanks for your hard work!

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