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Wunderman Thompson Antwerp


Catch-up Viewing - Will a Flemish Netflix do the trick?

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

Last week saw the publication of the Econopolis study on the media use of Flemish households, commissioned by Sven Gatz. Once again, the results are eye-opening. The most lucrative target group of 18-54-year-olds now views 33% of all private channel programmes on catch-up. According to the study, over the next 5 years this figure is set to rise to well above 50%. Commentators say the research is ‘alarming’ (de Tijd), and they are urging the media to make an effort towards making ‘a major leap forwards’ (de Standaard). The call for a Flemish Netflix is echoing in the corridors. However, will that actually resolve things? The reality is more complex than we think, and there is certainly no obvious solution. Whatever the case may be, time is running out and urgent action is required. After all, there are huge economic interests at stake.

Nevertheless, the Flemish audiovisual and broadcasting industry is doing better than ever before. There have never been so many people watching Flemish content and that is certainly a good thing. Quality will always find an audience and our Flemish media certainly set the bar high in this regard. Flemish fiction producers have every right to be proud of series such as 'Tabula Rasa', 'Beau Séjour', 'Salamander', etc. Programmes like 'Sorry voor alles' [Sorry about everything], 'Down the road', 'Wat als' [What if], 'Benidorm Bastards', etc. have been hailed internationally. So the Flemish audiovisual and broadcasting industry is thriving. However, no one seems to have an answer to the question that is currently on everyone’s mind: how can commercial broadcasting channels keep funding this? 

Firstly, it is primarily the commercial channels that are feeling the negative effects of catch-up viewing. The lion’s share of viewers fast-forward through the adverts. Are commercial channels in their current form, with their linear, channel-led programming, and a business model primarily based on advertising, nearing the end of their life cycle? Advertisers will be leaving in droves, which will decimate the primary source of income of the commercial broadcasting channels. 

Just like the newspapers have slowly but surely switched their focus from paper to online products, audiovisual media companies will increasingly have to ensure that their business model is less reliant on the traditional channels. They will soon need to tap into other sources of income. Even though, in the short term, there are technological means to force viewers to sit through the adverts before they get to watch their favourite series or programme, in the long term this may not prove an adequate answer. After all, one wonders whether the channels with their media platforms will be able to continue to fulfil their role as aggregators between the producers and consumers of ‘content’. And how will viewers react if they are going to be ‘forced’ to watch adverts after all?

Nowadays, we are living in a world where virtually everyone is producing content. From teenage YouTubers who manage to earn a fortune from their bedroom, without the support of a crew, catering or equipment, to Netflix shooting award-winning global and local productions. In 2019, Netflix will be producing and broadcasting its very first Dutch series, and just recently they acquired the rights to Flemish series such as 'Beau Séjour', 'Tabula Rasa', 'Salamander', etc. The recent concession on the part of Netflix to re-invest up to 2% of the turnover generated in Belgium into Flemish productions must be seen in this context. If Netflix is increasingly prepared - whether or not forced into it by the regulator - to invest in local content, one wonders whether a Flemish Netflix will do the trick. Why would we need a Flemish Netflix if their library will soon include local and other high-quality content from all the top producers in the world, and if it uses an algorithm to offer us local and personalised viewing? Compare this to Facebook: Why is there no room for a Belgian or Flemish Facebook?

That begs the question of what Flemish commercial broadcasting channels can actually do to turn the tide. There is certainly still room for our channels and – as they are already doing so expertly today – they will be calling upon a whole host of media platforms for distribution purposes (which they may or may not own). The biggest mistake the broadcasting channels must certainly not make is to stop investing in local high-quality content. Suburra, which was produced by Netflix (available for viewing in 190 countries), has inspired the Italian public and commercial broadcasting channels into setting up large-scale co-productions. With the global market at stake, this has resulted in, for example, the production of top series such as 'The Medici', 'The Hunter', etc. Quality will always find an audience, even if it is pay on demand. 

Viewers who do not wish to pay will have to take the advertising on the chin. Incidentally, advertising is certainly also part of the solution. Why do viewers not want to watch any adverts on television? Why are adverts often experienced as annoying and intrusive? As advertising agencies, we certainly must have the courage to take a good look at ourselves. Every year, the Dutch consumer programme 'Radar' hands out the ‘De Loden Leeuw’ [The Lead Lion] award to the most irritating advert. Despite the fact that Belgium has an abundance of internationally renowned advertising agencies, it would be easy enough to also come up with such a list for Flanders. In other words, we’ve got our work cut out for us. Now that the discussion is in full swing, is it not high time to challenge the prized 30 sec. format that advertising spots have been broadcast in for ages? Could this gigantic growth in native advertising on digital channels not act as an inspiration to do things differently on television?

From a technological point of view, too, advertisers can expect a major leap forwards by the optimisation of the programming for the screening/showing of adverts. Why do consumers experience the adverts on technological platforms such as Google and Facebook as less annoying? There can only be winners if we can learn how to get the right advertising message to the right viewer at the right time. Maybe then viewers will be less likely to skip the adverts.

Author: Giovanni Canini, CEO at Wunderman Thompson Antwerp