How Does It Work Now ?

Public Broadcasting Advertising
Commercial Broadcasting Funding
Television Market Developments
Facilities and Support Services Regional and Local Broadcasting
Independent Film and Television Producers International Broadcasting

Public Broadcasting

In 1999 the public broadcasting system consists of eight organizations with a license to broadcast programs, with one candidate public broadcasting organization and one umbrella organization. There are seven broadcasting organizations in the Netherlands, with 3.9 million members between them as at 1 January 1997.

They are NCRV (Protestant), KRO (Roman Catholic), VARA (social-democratic), AVRO (general), VPRO (social criticism) and EO (Reformational). Veronica left the public broadcasting system in 1995 to become a commercial broadcaster. BNN (youth broadcasting) was admitted to the public system in 1998. The broadcasting organizations contribute NLG 15 (+/-$7) per member to their own programs. The automatic linking of membership of a broadcasting organization and subscription to the television and radio guide published by that broadcasting organization was recently ended.

The eighth licensed broadcasting organization, the Dutch Program Foundation (Nederlandse Programma Stichting (NPS)), has no members. Its statutory brief is to supplement the programs broadcast by the other licensed organizations with cultural programs and broadcasts for ethnic minorities.

The Dutch Broadcasting Association (Nederlandse Omroep Stichting (NOS)) is the umbrella organization for the public broadcasting organizations. Its main tasks are to coordinate programs and broadcasting conditions and to protect the common interests of the broadcasting organizations. In addition, NOS provides a large proportion of the news and sports programs.

In addition to the seven broadcasting organizations, the candidate broadcasting organization, the NPS and the NOS, there are four types of organization within the public broadcasting system that can apply for transmission time. They are church and spiritual communities, education establishments, political parties and the government.

To encourage high-quality cultural programming, the Fund for the Promotion of Cultural Broadcasting was set up in 1988. This Fund, which is financed from advertising revenue, contributes to the costs of relatively expensive cultural television and radio productions.

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Commercial Broadcasting

In 1989, before commercial television was legally allowed in the Netherlands, RTL 4 began broadcasting from its base in Luxembourg. RTL 5 followed in 1991. Both broadcasters still come under the authority of the Luxembourg government. In 1995 these two broadcasters were joined by SBS-6, TV-10, The Music Factory (TMF) and the former public broadcasting organization Veronica. In 1998 TV-10 was taken over by FOX and on 1 March 1999 Net 5, the second SBS-6 broadcaster, began transmitting programs. RTL 4, RTL 5 and Veronica together form the Holland Media Group; between them they hold a market share averaging 40 per cent.

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Each of the public broadcasting organizations uses the three public channels to transmit its own program package, comprising informative, cultural, educational and entertainment programs. A fixed combination of broadcasting organizations work together closely on each of the three channels. On Netherlands 1 the broadcasters are AVRO, KRO and NCRV, on Netherlands 2 TROS and EO and on Netherlands 3 VARA, VPRO and NOS.

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Facilities and Support Services

The facilities and support services provided by NOS were sold in 1989 and placed in the Netherlands Broadcasting Services Corporation (Nederlands Omroepproductie Bedrijf (NOB)). This Corporation has grown considerably since then and now carries out a great deal of work for the commercial broadcasting organizations.
The Dutch government plans to sell off its shares in NOB in due course.

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Independent Film and Television Producers

Public broadcasting is an important financial backer and co-producer of Dutch films and documentaries. From 1999 at least 25% of programs transmitted by the public broadcasting organizations must come from independent producers.

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The scarcity of broadcasting frequencies and the limited capacity of the cable networks make it necessary for the government to ensure a fair distribution of the limited number of distribution channels.

The distribution of frequencies among the national and regional broadcasters and a number of commercial broadcasters is the responsibility of the Netherlands Broadcasting Transmitter Company (Nederlandse Omroep Zender Maatschappij (Nozema)). The Dutch government has plans to sell off the shares in Nozema.

Cable networks were originally set up as utilities, but are now operated commercially. In 1996 93 per cent of households in the Netherlands had cable television, giving the Netherlands one of the densest cable networks in Europe. Other distribution options do not as yet offer the consumer a viable alternative. In 1997 a statutory basic package was therefore introduced in order to guarantee accessibility and affordability for the consumer. Cable operators must as a minimum provide 15 television and 25 radio stations, including the domestic public broadcasting services and a number of public broadcasting services from neighboring countries. Local Programming Councils advise on the composition of this basic package, and cable operators may only deviate from that recommended package if there are pressing reasons. The local authority appoints the Programming Councils.

The commercial television channels are distributed (digitally) by satellite and then disseminated via cable networks. Unlike the public broadcasting services, therefore, they cannot be broadcast via transmitters and aerials. The public television stations are transmitted digitally by satellite together with the signal of the pay-TV channel Canal+.

Several organizations have joined forces in the consortium Digitenne with a view to providing digital terrestrial television services. The government is currently considering the introduction of digital terrestrial television.

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The Dutch Radio and Television Advertising Foundation (Stichting Ether Reclame (STER)) was created to manage advertising via the public radio and television services. The State Secretary appoints the executive committee of STER for Education, Culture and Science. The Media Act prescribes a limited advertising regime for public broadcasting. For example, advertising which interrupts programs is not permitted. The advertising rules for commercial broadcasting are in line with European regulations.

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Dutch public broadcasting is funded from a license fee, which is fixed by law, plus advertising revenue generated via STER. Every household possessing a radio and/or television is required to pay a license fee. In 1997, households with a radio and a TV paid NLG 186 (+/-$85) per year. The Dutch license fee is among the lowest in Europe. The Radio and Television Licensing Service (Dienst Omroepbijdragen (DOB) collect it on behalf of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. In 1998 the revenue from license fees totaled NLG 1.2 billion, and the income from advertising NLG 409 million.

The Dutch government has proposed the abolition of the license fee in 2000. It will be replaced by a government contribution, which will be funded from the general coffers. However, this will not lead to an increase in taxes. Of particular concern is that the independence of public broadcasting and its funding must continue to be safeguarded as under the present system. The relevant bill is currently passing through the Upper House of the Dutch parliament (the Senate).

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Market Developments

Since the arrival of the commercial broadcasting companies, the public broadcasting organizations have seen their market share shrink by half, falling from around 75 per cent in 1990 to stabilize at around 40 per cent in 1997 and 1998. The commercial broadcasters have a combined market share of 45 per cent. Viewers spend the rest of the time watching foreign, regional or local programs or watching videos. The public radio broadcasters had a market share of 33 per cent in 1998, compared with 46 per cent for the commercial radio broadcasting organizations.

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Regional and Local Broadcasting

Regional and local radio and television have undergone explosive growth in recent years. Virtually every municipality in the Netherlands now has a local public radio station, though the number of transmission hours can vary widely from one municipality to another. There are thirteen public regional radio stations, and regional public television stations have also emerged in the last few years. The provinces fund these jointly with central government. To fund regional and local broadcasting, provincial and municipal authorities can opt to add a surcharge to the national license fee. Since 1996 commercial broadcasting has also been possible at regional and local level.

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International Broadcasting

To supplement domestic public broadcasting, Radio Netherlands International (Stichting Radio Nederland Wereldomroep) broadcasts Dutch-language radio programs on short wave, aimed specifically at listeners abroad.

In the summer of 1996 Radio Netherlands International transmitted its first ever TV program, via satellite. This was done in close collaboration with the domestic broadcasting organizations. BVN was formed on 1 January 1998 as a joint enterprise between Radio Netherlands International and NOS, and on 1 September 1999 the Flemish public broadcasting organization VRT also joined the venture. BVN concentrates on broadcasting a representative cross-section of Dutch and Flemish television programs via satellite, and is now known as "The Best of Flanders and the Netherlands" (Het Beste van Vlaanderen en Nederland (BVN)). The Flemish government has promised additional funding to enable BVN to be received in North America, Canada and the Caribbean, including the Netherlands Antilles. If the operation as a pay-per-view station in North America is successful, BVN plans to extend the scope of its broadcasts to include South Africa.

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