With talks of a four-channel commercial network currently the buzz of the Dutch media scene, and Veronica – the largest and wealthiest of Holland’s state broadcasters – set to relaunch as a commercial station, the Dutch are descending on NATPE, program hungry and more competitive than ever before.
Bart Soepnal, head of program acquisitions for Veronica, is a case in point. As a pubcaster, Veronica transmitted the equivalent of 2 1/2 days of programming per week over one of the state channels. All that changes in September, when the station relaunches as a private commercial channel, broadcasting seven days a week.
Soepnal’s mission is to seek out 1,500 to 2,000 additional hours of product, and don’t try to sell him any sugar-coated family-oriented fare.
“Our slogan is ‘young, fast and wild,’ ” says Soepnal, “and that’s the kind of product we’re looking for. Programs that go down well with us are ‘Baywatch’ and ‘Melrose Place.’ We want what’s on the cutting edge.”
Dutch commercial market leader RTL 4 and Veronica – technically fierce competitors – are currently exchanging information about programming. That’s while their backers – including Endemol Entertainment, CLT and Dutch publisher VNU – negotiate the setup of a four-channel web consisting of Veronica, RTL 4, sister channel RTL 5 and another youth oriented music station.
Soepnel predicts deals will be coming down the pike fast and furious at NATPE, but look for much of the real cutthroat competition to come from the public broadcasters. Frank Mulder, director of program acquisitions for the state system, says no less than eight buyers from the major pubcasters will be present at NATPE, and they have no intention of being left behind in the programming dust.
The pubcasters are coming to markets prepared to deal, says Mulder. “We will be moving faster and making decisions quicker than we have ever done before. As public broadcasters, we were used to living a sheltered life, but we are, after all, Dutch. We can and will compete, and we are prepared to change with the times.”