Public broadcasters and non-profits look for 100 million: ‘It’s too easy to say NPO3 can be abolished’

Public broadcasters and non-profits look for 100 million: ‘It’s too easy to say NPO3 can be abolished’

It is an indicator of the political climate that the Media Park in Hilversum reacted with satisfaction to the framework agreement presented by the intended coalition parties this month. Only €100 million has to be cut from public broadcasting: much less than the amounts that changed hands in The Hague during formation. The VVD wanted to cut 400 million, and the PVV wanted to get rid of “NPO66” completely. “Because of all the rumours, I was very concerned about what would be included in that agreement,” says Arjan Lok, chair of the Employer Organization and College of Broadcasters partnership.

Not only were the size of the cuts less than expected, but the agreement also included a clause emphasizing the importance of a strong public broadcaster, under the title “Good Governance and the Rule of Law.” According to the intended coalition, the provision of reliable information, high-quality journalistic programs and diverse offers are of social importance. The NPO and all broadcasters were very happy about this, according to a joint statement. “This gives citizens the courage to continue working on modernizing the broadcast system,” says Luke.

Head of NPOFrederick Levlang All parties, including the Freedom Party, see that we play an important role in society. But they criticize the way the system has been designed over the years.

The nonprofit’s president, Frederic Levlang, has defended the importance of a strong public broadcaster behind the scenes in discussions with political parties. “I talked about this a lot with the formed parties, but also with the opposition parties,” she says. “All parties, including the Freedom Party, see that we play an important role in society. But they criticize the way the system has been designed over the years. They question whether we are able to anticipate a rapidly changing society and use of new media.

big loss

However well-intentioned this clause may be, €100 million represents a significant portion of the €900 million broadcasting budget. The last major cuts to public broadcasting were in 2012, when 200 million were cut. At that time, the government wanted to put an end to “fragmentation”: there was only room for 8 broadcasters instead of 21. This led to mergers between different broadcasters, such as AVROTROS, BNNVARA and KRONCRV. The non-profit organization took an increasingly important role in programming, to the detriment of the broadcasters’ reputation. But then broadcasters were added again, putting pressure once again on the management of the system. Programming is now a slow and opaque process.

This has to change, and everyone at Hilversum agrees. This also applies to the intended coalition parties. “The non-profit is reformed so that journalism – including its diverse offerings – is designed and ensured to be of high quality,” the framework agreement states. “Future-proofing and cost transparency is critical. The decision-making process has been streamlined.”

These $100 million cuts come in addition to a review of the broadcast system, which the nonprofit and broadcasters have already discussed in recent months. This came in response to the report submitted by the Van Geel Commission last year. At the request of the Council of Ministers, the Committee submitted proposals on accession and accountability criteria for public broadcasters, and to modernize the system. Because there was alarm in The Hague and Hilversum over the entry in 2022 of Ongehoord Nederland, the broadcaster that broadcasts explicitly racist videos and spreads conspiracy theories.

Following the report and the announced cuts, broadcasters now want to retain control over follow-up. “I think we at Hilversum have a huge responsibility to make this happen,” says Luke. “This is done in consultation with the Ministry. There they are working on a memorandum for the discussion that the new minister will have in the House of Representatives after the summer. This concerns the future of public order. So we will have to discuss this topic further soon. Fortunately, we have already been working on this in recent months.” .

According to Locke, these discussions among broadcasters are taking place along three main lines: digital transformation, a clearer division of roles between nonprofits and broadcasters, and protection of diverse offerings. Perhaps the most difficult issue on the table is limiting the number of broadcasters. In addition to the important broadcasters NOS and NTR, there are currently nine broadcasters, part of six partnerships. There are two new broadcasters with temporary recognition: Ongehoord Nederland and Omroep Zwart. Van Geel calls for the number of broadcasters to be reduced to six.

Maintain diversity

But that is easier said than done. Because all broadcasters consider their voice indispensable to a versatile show and will fight for their right to exist. They also feel supported by Van Geel, who calls for maintaining pluralism and strengthening the position of broadcasters in the system. “The most important thing is that there is a better system that can be controlled, with fewer broadcast stations,” says Dominique Wiese, president of PowNed. “Because there are now thirteen, that should be reduced to six. I think everyone will have to jump over their shadow. But they are all vanity.”

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In practical terms, this may mean closer cooperation between broadcasters. After all, we had already started doing this after the cuts in 2012. “If this means that I will soon have to be represented by someone else in management meetings, then so be it,” says Wiese. “As long as the brand continues to exist. We are now working with AVROTROS. This means that there is an institution above us that has a broadcasting license. Administratively, it is going well. But AVROTROS cannot sell our programs. Because they have a different DNA than us.”

“The cuts require reforms in which the division of roles between non-profits and broadcasters becomes clear again, with non-profits and broadcast companies responsible for content coordinated,” says Lonneke van der Zee, Managing Director of BNNVARA. “Broadcasters themselves will also have to take steps to make the system manageable. This will require more extensive cooperation between broadcasters, which will also lead to cost savings. BNNVARA is a big supporter of this, as demonstrated by the cooperation between BNN and VARA, and our support for Omroep Zwart “

Broadcasters want to prevent cuts from being at the expense of their programmes. They believe that the greatest gains can be achieved by reducing layers of management. This represents about a quarter of the total public broadcasting budget: 150 million for the umbrella non-profit organization and another 100 million for regulatory costs for broadcasters. “We have to look at that carefully,” Wesi says. “Nonprofits come first. Because I think that’s the largest employer in Media Park. But I think eight hundred employees is a lot for an executive organization.”

This suggestion leads to some resentment among the nonprofit’s president, Levlang. “There are 510 full-time staff at the non-profits, and there is also a large management layer at the broadcasters,” she says. “And it’s not just management, as a non-profit we also have an important mission in technology and distribution, and don’t forget that. Of course, we have to look at that as well. But it’s not that non-profits have overstepped their bounds, so you can “It can be easily reduced. I think you have to look at all the tasks that broadcasters now perform independently, such as social security. Everything that does not have to be unique can also be done together.”

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General Manager of BNNVARA.Lonicky van der Zee The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) regrets such a move.

However, difficult choices seem inevitable. Should the public broadcaster stop providing entertainment and focus solely on news, culture and sports, as the Liberal Party prefers? Or should the public channel be abolished, as the National Security Council did in its election statement? Now that the size of the discounts is not so bad, it seems that these options are not on the table at the moment. “It is very easy to say that NPO3 can be abolished,” says BNNVARA’s van der Zee. “This makes hardly any savings, while the risk of losing our younger audience is enormous. The BBC regrets taking such a step.”

NPO3 is precisely the channel that should reach young people. But they watch mainly online, not linear TV. The NPO launched a digital strategy last year, including a new app for its streaming service NPO Start, which initially showed some problems initially. “We need to focus less on traditional platforms,” says Locke. “Above all, making sure our content reaches the target groups we create it for. Linear programming is still important for some target groups. But if we want to reach young people, we have to think more carefully about how we deliver our content through apps.” Third Party, Social Media and Platforms.

If reducing management levels does not produce enough savings, cuts will have to be made elsewhere. Because 100 million is a lot of money. Omroep MAX’s Jan Slagter sees the possibilities. “You have to find it in the smaller things, even the very small things. Like cancellation,” he says BVN (Best From NPO, ed.), the channel through which the NPO can be seen around the world via satellite. Well, I’m mostly abroad, so I don’t need a BVN there. This saves another 1.5 million euros. But the programs must remain intact.”

Some reductions could be accommodated by giving Ster more room to sell ad time. “De Ster is not allowed to sell ads online and on demand,” says Levlang. “This is of course a bit strange if you live in a digital world and De Ster is allowed to sell advertising on other public broadcasting channels. So there is still some space there. The 24 million cuts that Rutte IV booked from 2025 have also been offset in this way “But in the end, this will never generate 100 million euros.”

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