Low Countries Boast High Media Profiles

Belgium and Luxembourg may be two tiny countries in northern Europe, but their influence in the entertainment industry goes beyond size.

Brussels is home to the European Community, whose decisions on cross-border media include landmark decrees affecting broadcasting, high-definition tv, cable, satellite and video businesses throughout the Continent.

Today, Luxembourg stands in the vanguard of commercially oriented initiatives, thanks to a government tax-incentive plan aimed at bringing movie and tv production to the Grand Duchy. In addition, liberal tax and corporate rules have given birth to a plethora of holding companies, including firms controlled by Silvio Berlusconi and Giancarlo Parretti. The satellite firm Astra (which carries Sky Television, MTV and others) is set to launch its next bird, which will add another 16 potential channels for viewers across Europe.

Out with the Old

Astra and RTL-CLT played a major role in bringing down the last vestiges of the Old World pubcaster monopoly that only five years ago still gripped Europe. Luxembourg’s pioneering free-market spirit helped introduce private radio and television to Europe. Radio Luxembourg and RTL-TV were Europe’s first commercial broadcasters.

While Luxembourg paved the way for private, commercial broadcasting on the Continent, Belgium only recently joined the ranks – but it did so with uncommonly swift success. It took Flemish-lingo channel VTM less than a year to establish ratings dominance and profits. As a result, a more vigorous local tv production industry has developed as well as a truly competitive, albeit small, market for tv program distributors.

A second channel, French-lingo RTL-TVI (part of Luxembourg’s CLT chain), has had a harder time. This is due in part to the fierce competition from cross-border French channels such as TF-1 and La-Cinq. Yet, RTL-TVI ranks No. 1 in its territory.

Both countries are small (Belgium has fewer than 10 million people and Luxembourg only 340,000), but their internal markets display sophistication and modernism that make some larger European countries pale in comparison. Their cable and VCR penetration far exceed the European average, for example. Belgium is one of the most highly cabled countries in the world.

Brussels’ two-year-old, 24-screen Kinepolis is not only a commercial success, but the bold, modern complex is often cited as a model for future multiplexes contemplated by other countries. Kinepolis is credited with turning around Belgian’s recent boxoffice slump. Last year, ticket sales rose nearly 9% in Brussels.

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