Holland and the Dutch-speaking section of Belgium have become Europe’s hottest new growth territories for commercial television, and although both territories are on a local-product kick, U.S. programs still dominate their import shopping list.
The fast pace at which the market is changing in Holland, however, is enough to make even the most jaded sales exec’s head spin. Take the case of Bart Soepnel. Soepnel, former head of acquisitions for Veronica, had a void as large as 3,000-4,000 hours to fill this year, nearly double his usual buy – most of that expected to be filled at the L.A. Screenings.
Soepnel needed the extra hours for when Veronica bails out of the public system next fall to join with Dutch commercial market leader RTL 4 and RTL 5, thus forming Holland’s first three-channel commercial net, HMG. As a public broadcaster, Veronica, which traditionally relied on a bundle of U.S. product, aired only about two days a week. As part of HMG, it will be on air seven days a week.
Hedy Van Bochove, VP acquisitions and development for Endemol Entertainment, one of the chief backers of HMG, notes that the synergies created by the three-channel commercial net could make her job a bit easier. “I won’t be going to L.A.,” Van Bochove says, “but I’m counting on my colleagues at Veronica and RTL 4 and 5 to keep me posted on interesting pilots.”
Soepnel is now head of acquisitions for Pan-Scandinavian media group SBS’s newest Dutch channel, SBS6 – he abruptly defected from Veronica May 16 – which is set to launch on Aug. 28, just two days before the HMG relaunch of RTL 4.
Despite backing from Paramount and ABC/Capital Cities of SBS and a pledge to program local product for the new channel, Soepnel says SBS6 will be on the hunt for “something fresh, something like ‘ER.’ ”
In Flanders, SBS created a major brouhaha when it launched its Dutch-speaking channel VT4 to the Flemish-speaking audience on February 1, breaking a monopoly on commercial advertisement granted market leader VTM by the Flemish government. VTM struck back by launching a second commercial channel, Kanal 2.
Guido Depraetere, programming topper for both VTM and Kanal 2, says he’ll be on the hunt for twice as much U.S. product as before – up to 1,000 hours, even though the station has a commitment to airing 50% local programming. Says Depraetere: “The local product quota only helps us define what we want. We’re open to all genres, but we especially want popular series like ‘Melrose Place,’ which has done very well in Flanders.”
Depraetere admits he’s feeling the competition from VT4, which he expects to be out in full force at L.A., but adds that in the final analysis it’s down to sales execs.
“It’s a question of whether they want to sell to a small station or to a broadcaster which has a proven ability to produce top ratings and market share,” he says.
In Holland, the startup of about seven new pay TV channels could find buyers shopping for additional feature films. In both Holland and Belgium, pubcasters expect to be striking deals to remain competitive in territories now running wild with commercial bidders.