In the beautiful medieval town of Visby on the Swedish Island of Gotland, the Swedish EU Presidency this week gathered a couple of hundred of telecoms policy makers and stakeholders to discuss the future of European Information Communication & Technology policy. (Highlights are available on the Twitter feed for #visbyagenda). We've written before in this blog about the buzz in EU policy circles about technology, and the debate over Europe's high tech future is heating up as Member States begin to propose their candidate Commissioners and the gossip turns to President Barroso's allocation of portfolios.

I had the pleasure of joining Esko Aho (Nokia's EVP for Executive Vice President, Corporate Relations and Responsibility, Chairman of the Aho group on Innovation and former Prime Minister of Finland) on a panel entitled "Business Perspectives". Although advertising is not usually considered part of the tech agenda, it is the primary source of financing for much of what we enjoy online today. Given the emphasis in Brussels on establishing a Digital Single Market, targeted advertising is a crucial ingredient in creating a viable, sustainable online market.

Many delegates mentioned to me afterwards that they had been surprised by this chart that I displayed:

It shows how consumers have switched to the Internet for around 30% of their media consumption, while advertisers have redirected a far more modest share of their budget in the same direction (Sources: ZenithOptimedia & Jupiter). This should change in the coming years. In a recent speech in Venice, advertising leader Sir Martin Sorrel suggested that advertising share should naturally converge towards audience share over the next five years. With ZenithOptimedia estimating the total 2008 advertising market in western Europe to be worth just under €80 billion, that's an opportunity for online publishers in all their guises to win around €15 billion in future business!

This coming online ad boom should benefit business, content providers and consumers. Major rights holders (as well as long tail publishers) will obtain additional scope to monetise their content, while consumers will receive easier access to content that they have long sought. Telecoms operators have much to gain: extra content drives adoption of faster Internet connections. Of course, consumers must trust the online ad industry if it is to achieve its promise. That's why we have launched two important products this year: Google's Ads Preference Manager, and Dashboard. Both are designed to give users access to and control over data collected by Google.

Posted by Simon Hampton, Director of Public Policy

P.S. If you haven't seen Hans Rosling's legendary presentations using the Gapminder technology, take a look at what he said in Visby.