Belgium’s VTM Web Bagging Big Bucks

VTM (Vlaamse Televisie Maatscappij), the commercial station in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, began broadcasting in February 1989 and has become the success story of Belgian tv.

Advertising revenues for 1989 were originally projected at around 2 billion francs (approximately $62.5 million), but business reached 3.127 billion francs by year’s end and is now reportedly around 4 billion. Profits were 181 million francs and turnover 866 million francs. Average audience share is now close to 40%.

VTM’s programming has been highly effective from the beginning. Top shows include “Dallas,” previously shown by public station BRT, and gameshows (including a Dutch-speaking version of “The Price is Right”) hosted by familiar presenters. Among the top hosts are Walter Capiau, who formerly appeared on BRT, and Guido Depraetere, head of programming with VTM but also familiar from his days with BRT.

Roland Lomme is responsible for film acquisitions for the channel, while journalists such as Daniel Buyle constitute the backbone of VTM’s newsroom.

The channel, which is carried in Flanders and Brussels by cable, has also seen some stormy moments. Topper Carlo Gepts resigned, and legal advisor Leo Neels took charge. News chief Jan Schodts also quit, seemingly because he didn’t approve of some of the methods used by the station. Rumors have persisted of privileged deals with some Flemish production companies.

In exchange for the exclusive right to advertise in the Dutch-speaking part of the country, VTM is obligated to have a percentage of its programs (20% during the first year of operation, 30% the second year) produced by Belgian production companies in Flanders or Brussels.

So far, VTM has exceeded its quotas in search of a truly local Flemish feel. “Tien Om Te Zien,” for example, is a very successful show almost exclusively focused on Flemish musicians and composers, giving a significant boost to the Flemish music industry.

VTM will have to face more difficult times in the future. BRT has set up a commercial arm called VAR (Vlaamse Audiovisuele Regie) to sell airtime on tv and commercials on radio.

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