Reality TV knocks off U.S. fare

'Series work less and less,' says Flemish buyer

BRUSSELS – U.S. product producers with their eyes on Belgium may find it even more difficult than usual at this year’s Mipcom as local reality programming squeezes Stateside faves out of schedules across the country.

Frans Huybrechts, main buyer at Flemish pubcaster VRT, explains that U.K. docusoap “Airport” has forced U.S. series “Family Law” out of its programming.

“The U.S. series was a very good show and we were pleased to get it, but it just didn’t work for us,” he notes.

Huybrechts says “reality shows and docudramas, mainly from the U.K., have pushed a lot of U.S. fare off the schedules, especially in primetime.” The only U.S. shows that work well are TV films and feature films — “series work less and less.”

Luc Janssens, main buyer at commercial rival VTM, will spend nearly all his time at Mipcom with his eye out for products for youth channel Kanaal 2. VTM’s main channel is 90% local programming, with only “The Bold and the Beautiful” making any major inroads for the U.S.

“Kanaal 2 wants to attract young viewers to quality U.S. TV shows and films,” explains Janssens, who will be looking for “good replacement products targeting a young audience”; “Ally McBeal” and “The X-Files” have been major successes.

VRT’s Ketnet youth channel is also very U.S.-oriented. “Some 80% of our acquisitions are from the U.S.,” according to Huybrechts, “and the rest are either British or Australian.”

However, rival youth channel VT4 is investing heavily in its reality productions, with its “The Bus” show sending 12 people traveling the Low Countries until New Year’s. “Expedition Robinson” is the web’s version of “Survivor”.

Nevertheless, VT4 press officer Roland Rentmeesters says the station will be looking out for U.S. shows with “youth, adventure and humor, but not gameshows … they require too much concentration.”

Francophone RTBF is one web making a stand against the reality tide.

Fiction buyer Georges Jetter explains: “We want to maintain our image as a public services broadcaster and we’re not interested in ‘Big Brother’ or ‘Survivor’ shows.”

He points out that only 20% of RTBF’s revenues come from ads. “We’re trying to maintain a very distinct image to the commercial stations. It would be a shame if people confused the two of us.”

Jetter will be looking for blockbusters and TV movies, but cautions that the collapse of the euro against the dollar may dampen prices at this year’s event.

“We Europeans simply can’t pay the same dollars as we could two years ago,” he says.

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