Monday, March 05, 2012

Creative Collapse in Hilversum Continues

Hilversum Danger Signals

The Dutch Broadcast magazine reports this morning (in Dutch) that negotiators from the political parties in power at the moment (VVD, CDA and PVV) have started three weeks of intense negotiations on how to make another round of cuts in public spending. 

They won't be saying anything for another three weeks (officially) but they have (of course) already let slip that another round of budget cuts in public service broadcasting are on the cards. Perhaps another 100 million Euro will be taken away in 2013, on top of the 200 million they cut out of of regional, national and international broadcasting for next year. 

In the case of external broadcasting, they decimated the budget of Radio Nederland Wereldomroep bringing it down from 46 to 14 million Euro. It may well not even be that in the end. 7? 5? 0 million? It's looking that way for 2013.

The current plan for the rest basically reduces the Dutch public broadcasting from 4 channels (3 national and one regional network) to 3 channels (effectively combining NED3 with the regional's) to make a structure that looks like public broadcasting in Germany and a commissioning process which looks more like Channel 4 in the UK. Radio is hiding in the corner, hoping it won't be noticed. But it will! Commercial radio is hurting big time and they haven't forgot the unfair licensing of FM frequencies 

Yes, cuts were needed in public broadcasting which under the present ludicrous (yet still unique) system of public production companies has never been further away from its public. Unlike neighbouring countries, there is no independent body which allows citizens to influence the overall policy of public service broadcasting. There is no dialogue with those who pay for the privilege of watching and listening to (mostly) bland magazine shows spread over far too many channels. 

Yes, public broadcasting has maintained reasonable market shares; for the time being. But the current senior management teams have done little to prepare their staff for the role of public broadcasting in the most austere times we are about to witness probably in a century. And when it comes to understanding what is happening in the digital household of the future, it's clear to me that they haven't a clue. No, most people don't want to live in a shop, with sales-people on every screen. And how many searches for talent can we tolerate in a lifetime? 

Lack of Vision is Killing

I still meet mini-media moguls in Hilversum who are spending as though they were working in San Francisco. "Yes, cuts should happen - everywhere except in my programme". It reminds me of what went wrong in the Netherlands just before the great floods of 1953, when no-one anticipated that stronger, coherent sea defences were needed. It's certainly calm before the storm.

But, as long as the vision in Hilversum is traditional television, the weaker the argument towards the henchmen in the Hague - and the Dutch public who pay for it all through government taxation rather than a licence fee. I'm sure the politicians have already decided. Balancing the budget is the excuse needed to press the accelerator pedal. If Hilversum doesn't anticipate what's coming in programme and public value terms, then it doesn't have a future. Because without understanding and winning public support for it's future purpose, it has little influence with the politicians and, ultimately, no point.

So is anyone in Dutch public broadcasting working on a serious Plan B? 

"The future belongs to those who see possibilities before they become obvious." 

John Scully 

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