Thanks to the wide availability of high-speed broadband networks – a result of the public service by both cable and telecom operators – the penetration of Internet access is relatively high. The number of Internet users in Belgium has surpassed 9 million, equally to a penetration of 82 percent. However, there is a remarkable difference between the two language communities: Whereas Internet penetration in Flanders exceeds 90 percent, the proportion of Internet users in the Southern part is of about 72 percent. Belgium used to lag behind in terms of mobile data subscription, but since 2014 the proportion of mobile data subscribers has been increasing fast to more than 60 percent.
New media platforms are by far the most consulted websites in Belgium. Google and Facebook are the most popular websites in Belgium, followed by YouTube, Microsoft Outlook (Hotmail) and Wikipedia. Ranked as number 9, HLN.be, the website of Het Laatste Nieuws, is the only representative of a traditional media brand in the top 10; Het Nieuwsblad.be is ranked number 12. The popularity of news aggregators such as Facebook, Google and Twitter puts pressure on traditional media organisations. About 40 percent of Internet activity in Belgium is related to social networks, 16 percent of attention goes to portals and search engines. Barely 20 percent of all traffic is related to traditional media websites. Not only in terms of traffic, but, since views are sold to advertisers, also in terms of advertising revenue. It is therefore no surprise that online advertising is growing, in most cases at the expense of traditional media organisations.
Whereas television advertising has remained more or less stable over the last years (about 54 percent), advertising income of newspapers and magazines has declined dramatically. Although the share of newspapers and magazines on the Belgian advertising market remained stable between 1998 and 2006 (about 38 percent), its share has sharply fallen to 27.4 percent. Meanwhile, the share of online advertising in the total advertising investments has grown to over 6 percent. However, these figures are grossly underestimated since they are limited to traditional display advertising (banners) and do not include search, content integration and/or native advertising. Since it is estimated that Facebook and Google command at least two thirds of all Internet advertising in Belgium, the share (and volume) of online advertising is assumed to be a two- or threefold of the officially reported digital revenues.