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Belgium: Pubcasters eye new product

BRUSSELLS — With changes at Belgium’s public and private French-language broadcasters, Mip could see some unexpected choices from RTBF and RTL buyers.

At French-language pubcaster RTBF, the board has launched its so-called Magellan Plan, designed to get the cash-strapped broadcaster back on track financially, with a change in direction toward more popular shows.

After axing a trio of old favorites, RTBF is trying to attract viewers with the kind of popular fare usually shown on commercial channels. Striking RTBF employees are protesting that the pubcaster is losing its identity.

Despite the success of French import “Venus and Apollo” and long-running U.S. imports like “Ally McBeal,” RTBF has been criticized for allowing private channels to move in on its traditional territory, missing out on heavyweight imports like a BBC doc series on the Nazis.

Meanwhile, at French-language commercial broadcaster RTL, Patrick Vandenbosch has taken over as head of acquisitions, replacing long-time chief buyer Jean Paul Delcomminette. Recent American imports include “CSI” and “Desperate Housewives.”

The Flemish broadcasting arena is more predictable, with a continuing focus on local fare, especially at pubcaster VRT, where buying coordinator Franz Lefever says U.S. imports rarely do well in primetime slots. Instead, shows like cop series “Witse,” soccer comedy “FS de Kampionen” and soap “Phuif” (Home) regularly attract one viewer in six.

Reality shows are going strong, and there is a continuing interest in new formats. After its success with the Flemish “Pop Idol,” VRT has bought the format for “Fame Academy,” which it intends to produce later this year, while commercial broadcaster VTM is doing well with local versions of “Star Academy,” “Blind Date” and “X-Factor.”

“We have a lot of documentary slots to fill and are looking in Cannes for good science, history, human interest and current affairs programs,” Lefever says.

Canvas, VRT’s second channel, has the most need for acquisitions, and Lefever hopes to find good shows from Germany, France and other European countries, as well as product from as far away as Australia.

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