This week, my colleagues published the profile of Forum.eu, a Berlin-based news startup aims to shake-up the pan-European media market, as they put it in the title.
“Forum.eu, a Berlin-based digital news startup, is trying to fix that problem and become a leading platform for debate around Europe. Every day, it offers readers up to 7 curated stories high on the European news agenda. Articles come from its network of publishing partners. Forum translates them into 6 European languages currently available on the website and kicks off a discussion around them for the day.”
Coming from a small central European country, somehow the idea of a European news site focused on Europe has always intrigued me.
I guess it would mean that I am a part of something bigger and there would be this media brand to represent it. It would no longer be just my feeling, but a kind of reality. Seeing your small country next to news from Germany or France would, in some sense, even signal equality.
Of course, I know of Euronews, though it is a pay TV news network first and news site second. This is easily revealed by its ranking among websites worldwide. While CNN or BBC rank in the top 100 most visited websites, Euronews barely makes it to the top 2,000.
To explain why it will be hard for Europe-focused news sites to make it, it is useful to compare the European and American startup scenes.
EU startups: Less VC money, fragmented market, more regulation
A simple Google search (“startups EU vs US”) produces two sets of results (broadly speaking). For the former, it’s hopeful blogs that praise the European startup scene, say the US investors love EU startups or that it is somehow better to start a tech company in Europe.
The second group of results is less forgiving and more data-based. As I browsed, I found many authors who shared their own experiences working for EU and US startups.
Many of the arguments were similar, almost always starting with comparing VC (venture capital) funding opportunities and the lack of them in Europe. To admit this is an issue is a good start and even the European Union knows this.
That’s why earlier this year The European Innovation Council Fund was founded. As Bloomberg explained, it is expected to total about €3 billion, and aims to plug a “critical” funding gap for breakthrough technologies to scale up to commercial levels and better compete with the US and Asia.
As officials explained, they see that there is less risk-taking in the EU in terms of VC funding. Hence, the bloc wants to lead with several first investments in promising European startups.
Still, the rest of the arguments against Europe echoed the fragmented market or too much and diverse regulation. The EU has been talking about a digital single market for years now.
New proposals – The Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act – encompass a single set of new rules applicable across the whole EU. That is great, but on the other hand that means even more regulation.
It is no secret the internet tech giants thrived because of lax rules within the US. These have also led to the social and political consequences we are dealing with at the moment. Nonetheless, their importance for business growth means we are unlikely to see them go away.
More from The Fix: European media, civil society comes together in “Summer of Solidarity”
Relevant pan-European news site
Sure, applying all this to the example of Forum.eu is not really fair. It is a new startup and aims to bring together different perspectives on key debate topics, as they explained to me in a conversation on Twitter, where I voiced my scepticism of their business model.
In other words, Forum.eu wants to be an online opinion magazine where leaders and thinkers share their thoughts and others react. Still, one thing that struck me equally was the effort both Euronews and Forum.eu need to invest in translating their content into several languages. Instead of spending more time on the breadth and quality of the pieces, you need to put your energy into feeding each large part of Europe with its own language.
Imagine English, or German, or Spanish being the official language for the whole Europe. Wouldn’t that be easier and open up a lot more possibilities? Sure. Will that ever happen? No.
To conclude, it’s not just about the language barrier. The BBC, The Economist, Politico.eu or The Financial Times all produce content mainly in English and have large audiences within Europe, but it’s not the only market for them.
Cultural differences and a history of countries protecting their borders against invaders or, more recently, migrants also plays a role.
Finally, you are presented with a chicken and egg problem, should there first be a cultural understanding of a unified Europe with a need to get a fuller picture of what’s going on across the continent, or should there first be publications that fulfill this need and grow to become widely accepted.
I don’t know and remain sceptical, but I sure hope for someone to prove me wrong.
[Editor’s note: The idea of the potential for pan-European remains hotly debated – including for The Fix, whose mission is covering the pan-European media market. Our upcoming webinar, part of a series of webinars around innovation in media, tech and business held February 22 to March 3, will focus on the prospects for a pan-European market. Learn more and sign up by going to the Media Revolutions page.]