Local p’gramming rules in Flemish Belgium

Foreign product pricier, homegrown fare better value, VTM exec sez

BRUSSELS — American product continues to be squeezed out of the Belgian market as stations show no signs of halting the investment in local product.

Frans Huybrechts, head of acquisitions at Flemish VRT, says that on his commercial channel all foreign acquisitions have been replaced by homegrown product, except for features and made-for-TV movies.

“Locally produced TV is proving increasingly popular in Flemish-speaking Belgium,” explains Huybrechts. “We are making more and more of our own talkshows and reality TV shows, which are filling primetime slots.”

One local program in particular has proved a real hit with Belgian audiences. Aired in the Sunday evening slot, “Men on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” (named after the Pedro Almodovar’s “Women on the Verge … “) is a cross between a gameshow and a reality soap.

“It’s hilarious,” Huybrechts tells Variety.

He also says he will be less likely to purchase big U.S. blockbusters this year. The aud for features on his channel has dropped by a third, making them too expensive to air.

Luc Janssens, head buyer at rival Flemish channel VTM, doesn’t expect to be very acquisitive at this year’s Mip TV market either. Currently, his station airs some 90% of local product in primetime slots, and Janssens expects this figure to rise rather than fall.

“The prices of foreign product are getting higher, making local products better value for money,” he says. “Added to this is the ratings issue. At present, ratings for locally produced shows on our station are three to five times higher than for foreign products.”

Foreign shows are likely to fare better in Belgium’s Francophone Wallonia region, but even there, local product is winning out.

Buyer Georges Jetter, who acquires fiction for Canal Plus and pubcaster RTBF, says 60% of his programs are likely to be sourced in Europe.

“Most of our foreign product is made up of features or TV movies,” he explains.

French and German programs also have done well on RTBF in recent years.

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