Sked changes in the cards

Territory report: Belgium

BRUSSELS — In many ways it is business as usual in the Belgian TV arena at the moment, but major changes are coming.

An ongoing overhaul of French-language pubcaster RTBF, for example, will lead to schedule changes on all channels. “In January, we could see a real revolution,” says Georges Jetter, the broadcaster’s fiction buyer.

In the Flemish part of the country, pubcaster VRT will rethink scheduling on its three channels: TV1, Ketnet and Canvas. “There will be changes not only in the look of the channels, but also in their content,” says VRT’s Franz Lefever.

TV1’s relaunch is due at the end of 2004 and the other two at the beginning of 2005.

This is despite TV1, Ketnet and Canvas having all increased the market share in recent years. TV1 has 28% of the Flemish audience, ahead of commercial rival VTM (23%). In the French-speaking part of the country, RTBF (15.3%) trails privately owned RTL TVI (18%), although the gap is smaller than the 4% of 1997.

Changes at the big nets and the impending sale of pay TV channel operator Canal Plus Benelux suggest that the Belgian TV landscape is in a state of flux. Budgets, however, are stable.

“My budget hasn’t changed for four or five years,” Lefever says, adding that any extra funds would go to local productions.

VTM’s Luc Jansens adds: “We have to be very selective in what we buy. Spending on U.S. programming gets lower and lower all the time.”

Although TV execs want local product for their primetime slots, some have been having success with U.S. shows elsewhere on the skeds. RTBF is launching Warner’s “Everwood” on Sunday afternoons and “Without a Trace” on Sunday evenings after the primetime French-language TV movie. RTBF’s Jetter says his main priority at Mipcom will be to acquire classic American serials.

VRT still enjoys good primetime ratings with local dramas such as “Flykken” (Cops), although it has had success with Disney-produced “Alias” on TV1 and BBC factual and drama programming on Canvas.

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