While the launch of as many as eight new commercial channels across the Benelux this year alone may be good news for program-hungry adults, the resulting competition may spell danger for children’s programming.
“Quality children’s programming could become an endangered species in Holland,” warns Els Kuiper, a veteran buyer for Channel 3’s VPRO.
She adds, “I have a difficult enough time finding good children’s programming now. Ten years down the road, if this trend continues, I’ll have very little to choose from.” “There is a tendency under these kinds of market pressures to put less money into production. We are not too happy about that,” says Sjoerd Raemakers, managing director of Amsterdam-based Telescreen Distribution and Licensing.
Although VPRO recently doubled its children’s programming on Dutch channel 3, and broadcasters KRO and IKON are holding their own, pubcasters like AVRO and VARA have buckled under intense ratings pressures by cutting back their kidfare. “When something has to be dropped, it is children’s programming.”
Kindernet buys 90% of its programming from abroad – mainly from Australia, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S. – and captures about 30% of the 3-13 age group.
But the big draw in this market is the Cartoon Network, which broadcasts 12-14 hours a day, despite being kicked off cable in Holland’s Dutch-speaking territory Flanders for violating the TV Without Frontiers European quota provisions.
And in Belgium regs are stiff, drawing criticism from market leader VTM which feels cramped by a law which forbids all advertising five minutes before or after any children’s show.
“It leaves us no choice. We do very little children’s programming as a result, and what we do costs us a lot of money,” says Els van den Abbelle, a spokesperson for the channel.