Belgian newspapers have been offering digital versions since the early 2000s: the financial title De Tijd was the first with an online edition (website) and quality brand De Standaard pioneered the pdf format, which has now become the main digital newspaper model. The sale of digital newspapers did not take off until late 2010, when the Apple iPod was introduced. The introduction of tablets, which now have a penetration rate of over 50 percent in both parts of the country, represented a juncture in the lifecycle of newspapers publishers, for whom digital formats represent a unique opportunity to reconsider the meaning and purpose of news delivery and to challenge the traditional journalistic narratives and layout formats.
Despite these opportunities, digital circulation did not account for more than 9 percent of the total circulation in 2016, just 1 percent more than the year before. Hence, digital circulation is growing, but at a rather slow pace, and its growth is hardly compensating for the decreasing circulation of traditional newspapers, especially in Wallonia. Since 2010, paper circulation in the southern part has declined by 119,355 copies (minus 29 percent) while digital circulation grew by 34,075 copies. The situation is quite different in Flanders, where paper circulation declined by 110,510 (minus 12 percent) but digital subscriptions grew by 76,809 copies.
In Flanders, digital circulation is 80,267 copies (9 percent of total circulation), with quality newspapers De Standaard (16,389 copies) and De Morgen (16,305 copies) leading the market in absolute numbers. Financial newspaper De Tijd leads in relative numbers: digital represents about 36 percent of its total circulation. Recently, popular newspapers have seen a strong growth in digital sales too. In Wallonia, quality newspaper Le Soir takes the lead with 10,246 digital copies, followed by regional title Sudpresse (8,706 copies). Similar to its Flemish counterpart, digital sales represent nearly 40 percent of total circulation for financial newspaper L’Echo.
Online video platform Netflix gained ground in September 2014 and has built a base of about 400,000 daily viewers (208,000 in Flanders; 192,000 in Wallonia). However, the actual number of viewers is higher since passwords are widely shared with friends and family members. In response to Netflix’ arrival in Belgium, television broadcasters have also developed online offerings, so to keep the viewer engaged and generate additional revenue from subscriptions and advertising. Medialaan started Stievie, a subscription platform offering live and on-demand television, and has made all television programmes freely available on its website for registered viewers. Moreover, VRT has launched its free video player VRT nu early in 2017. RTBF has a similar service: Auvio.