Politicos take an ax to pubcasters’ coin

20% to but cut from prodn'n, p'gramming departments

AMSTERDAM — Dutch pubcasters must slash 400 staffers as part of 64 million euros ($78 million) in government funding cuts over the next four years.

The ax will hit all sectors, but a fat 20% is expected to come out of production and programming, 8% from new media operations and 10% from radio operations.

The news is the latest blow to the public system, which has come under increasing criticism from the government and the media.

The combined budget for the pubcasters in 2003 was $1.1 billion, 75% from tax money and 25% from advertising. But critics say the programming is not distinct enough from commercial channels’ content to justify so much subsid coin.

Additionally, the nine main pubcasters in the system historically represent social, political and religious interest groups that are less relevant to today’s viewers.

An interim evaluation of the pubcasting mandate by parliament is expected in April, but if a recent harsh attack in parliament in late November is any indication, the situation does not look good.

The cutbacks will force more synergies, such as sharing use of studios among the fiercely independent broadcasters. One study found the studios of TROS, VARA and VPRO, three of the main pubcasters, were empty 60% of the time.

The government’s right-wing libertarian party the VVD also wants to ban pubcasters from bidding for expensive sports rights — a move the pubcasters will fight fiercely.

A recent study by the Volkskrant newspaper estimated that over the next four years, the pubcasters will spend at least $78 million on sports rights, the exact amount the government wants the pubcasters to cut back.

Harm Bruins Slot, chairman of the public broadcasting board of directors, has insisted there will be no cuts in the sports right budget, adding the public system is charged with providing “not only culture and education, but also sports and amusement.”

The NOB, the technical facility for all broadcasters in Holland, also is facing a reorg. Proposals are on the table to merge the NOB’s Cross Media Facilities, which houses digitization and multibroadcast facilities, with the pubcasters and sell off its Broadcast Facilities Group, a collection of other technical companies with 900 employees.

While no decision has yet been made, Marco Demmink, company secretary to the NOB Holding board of directors told Variety if that plan is carried out, “our job here will be finished” and NOB will shutter.

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