Streaming Spotlight: Going Dutch

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Forget wooden shoes, windmills, and tulips. Forget Rotterdam Harbour, the world’s busiest port for 40 years until it was surpassed by Shanghai in 2004. The Netherlands wants you to understand that it has a new business—as a major accelerator for digital media services on a global scale.

The Dutch government is backing an ambitious scheme that brings together the nation’s leading media and technology companies under the Dutch Media Hub (DMH), which will offer digital distribution and content management services and hot
house innovation.

“The Netherlands has played a traditionally important role in the physical transport of film and video material from overseas into Europe,” programme director George Freriks says. “This has centred on a huge physical store—a warehouse essentially—at Schipol airport. Film reels would arrive by plane, be logged, and stored on-site for distribution across Europe to whichever rightsholder required it.”

Clearly, such a model is anachronistic in an age of data transfer, which is why the government is pouring substantial money into an ambitious plan to transform this physical distribution and storage effort into a filebased network. This concerns the storage, processing, and distribution of theatrical content directly to digitally equipped cinemas, multiple broadcast, and VOD channels and websites.

Digital Gateway to Europe
The initiative began with the regional support of the Amsterdam, Hilversum, and Almere metropolitan areas and the province of North Holland. A crucial moment came when the DMH gained full government backing, and an evangelist in the minister of economic affairs, looking to stimulate economic growth. It is funded until October 2011.

“We began by devising a concept for the secure digital storage and distribution of vast volumes of data as a value-added service, brought it to the attention of the major U.S. studios, received their feedback, and we are now ready to position the Netherlands as the gateway to Europe,” Freriks says.

Forty companies have partnered in the consortium, which officially launched last July, with expertise spanning network storage (EMC Corp.); CDN (Jet Stream); transcoding (Blue Billywig); playout and production (Digital Media Centre); outside broadcast, rental, and production facility (UBF); digital film services (Technicolor; Digital Film Center Europe); digital advertising exchange (Adstream); asset management (Vivesta); data management (Interxion) mobile data services (Golden Bytes); cross-platform production (Stoneroos); and more. There is a joint marketing effort to push the country to the forefront of digital media development.

“Especially with the economic slowdown, we identified digital media as a growth area. We want to develop ourselves as a service economy—and digital media is perfect to showcase the Netherlands as service centre of excellence for Europe,” Freriks says.

All the participants in the project are required to locate a substantial physical presence in the Netherlands but do not have to be native. U.K. telco BT, for example, is a member. “It is not a free ride. Members pay to join the consortium, and there is a commitment to invest in the region’s economy. Their participation should be positive for the Dutch economy,” Freriks says.

Challenging London
The government is hoping to wrest business away from Paris, Brussels, and, more particularly, London. London has long been a preferred base for feature-film production among U.S. studios, with physical lots such as Pinewood on its outskirts and an unmatched hive of creative expertise nestling in Soho. After the strong pound a decade ago deterred some  international producers, the U.K. introduced tax incentives for productions, which based a proportion of work there. Similar inducements are being applied by the Dutch government. Frankfurt, Germany’s financial heart, is also viewed as a rival. Germany’s fifth-largest city is only a 2-hour train ride from Amsterdam.

It’s not as if the country is beginning from scratch. Most Dutch citizens speak two or three languages, often four or five. English is the lingua franca. Broadband consumption is extremely high with more than 80% penetration. Live streams of the 2008 Summer Olympics were watched (per capita) 10 times as much locally compared to the U.S. market. Average households get 4Mbps–20Mbps, while early adopters can get up to 100Mbps broadband in new fibre being laid nationwide.

For such a tiny country, Dutch companies are remarkably influential. Next to the U.S. and the U.K., the Netherlands is ranked No. 3 in content formats. Endemol and Eyeworks productions such as Deal or No Deal, Big Brother, Starmaker, and Extreme Makeover have been exported worldwide.

The Dutch advertising industry is strong with a number of agencies such as Wieden+Kennedy and postproduction facilities such as Glassworks based there. The Hilversum Media Park—where the Dutch Media Hub is headquartered—houses one of the largest media clusters in the world, for broadcasters, studios, producers, and hundreds of facilitating companies.

Perhaps most importantly, it happens to sit on top of one of the world’s largest internet hubs: the Amsterdam Internet Exchange (AMS-IX). AMSIX pumps out more than 900 gigabits per second of internet traffic through the Netherlands and beyond. Capacity is not an issue.

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