Dutch TV dispute

Media watchdog goes after HMG channels

AMSTERDAM — Holland Media Group (HMG) stands to lose as much as $5 million a year in sponsorship and advertising revenues if a new ruling by Dutch media watchdog agency The Media Commission is upheld.

HMG has the largest commercial network in Holland, with its share of the TV advertising pie running as high as 60%. Two of its channels, RTL 4 and RTL 5, are licensed out of Luxembourg, while Veronica, a former Dutch public broadcaster that joined the group as a commercial channel several years ago, is licensed out of the Netherlands.

The Media Commission has repeatedly cited RTL 4 and RTL 5 for violating sponsorship and particularly product-placement laws, but HMG has maintained its conduct is entirely legal under Luxembourg law.

The commission has now ordered HMG to bring all of its channels in compliance with Dutch programming and ad regs by March 1, claiming its jurisdiction is proscribed by a new Media Law that went into effect in September in Holland, as well as by European law.

The Dutch law stipulates a broadcaster that transmits over Dutch cable, makes most of its programming decisions in Holland and has a majority of its personnel in this territory is subject to Dutch media regulations. The European Commission’s Television Without Borders directive upholds the same claim, according to legal advisers for the Media Commission.

Proving jurisdiction, however, especially for EC law, may not be easy. RTL 4 and RTL 5 have long depended on the fact, for marketing purposes, that their operations are pretty much Dutch run, but Luxembourg based CLT-UFA directly or indirectly owns more than half the shares of the two channels and it is unlikely that group will give up all those ad revs without a fight.

A spokesperson for HMG told Daily Variety the net’s board of directors was “studying the ruling” and had until mid-December to file a response. The Media Commission is requiring that RTL 4 and RTL 5 file before Jan. 6 for a Dutch license and to adjust all programming before March 1, a daunting task by any standard.

Among the programs RTL 4 and RTL 5 stand to lose as a result of sponsorship violations under Dutch law, if the ruling sticks, are “Wheel of Fortune” (Raad van Fortune), “Coffeetime” (Koffeetijd), “House and Garden” (Huis en Tuin), and “Superscore.” They are all series in which advertiser products are heavily “placed” throughout the program.

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