Belgium. A country of waffles, chocolate, beer, three native languages and a big country divide. The latter has made it a particularly tricky market to make work: Flanders and Wallonia have two different media landscapes; the north of the country has its own fairly diverse station mix and three main commercial sales houses. Wallonia, on the other hand, has been limited to the public and one commercial option in Radio Television Luxembourg (RTL) – the remainder of viewing is then absorbed by French channels broadcast in the region.
The benefit of being the only commercial option in the market is that you can charge what you like and don’t have to go through too much effort to entice potential advertisers to your stations. It is no surprise then that both RTL and stations in north Belgium (also RTL) felt uneasy about TF1 coming into the market. TF1 is the largest commercial station in France and is accessible to viewers in Wallonia already, but advertising is not localised. TF1 currently has about 15% of viewing share in the French-speaking region of Belgium, so it is a significant freebie for current advertisers in France.
TF1 initially approached RMB (an organisation that sells the public stations in Wallonia) to sell their airtime, which would create something of a monopoly. The issue was taken to the moral conscience of the Wallonian advertising world, the RTBF, who eventually approved that TF1 could enter the market but could not be sold through RMB. It isn’t just sales operations in the south that fear TF1. As it stands, Flanders currently takes the lion’s share of advertiser spend in Belgium, and with more options opening up in the south it is likely that money will be moving into the French-speaking market, so Medialaan and VMMa have also opposed the move.
The story does have a happy ending, as the contract to sell TF1 space has been awarded to Transfer. Transfer is a Belgian operation between Fox and two local managers who sell thematic channels in both the north and south. They currently have around 17% of the viewing share in the country and the additional 15% in the south will give them a good boost. TF1 will be available to buy locally as of September 2017.
All Response Media Viewpoint
Belgium has always been a tricky market to make work. The combination of limited stations, high pricing and the country divide has meant a high investment compared to the population size, and we often see higher cost per view (CPV) than we do in other markets. The growth of the thematic channels sold by Transfer has helped to improve key performance indices (KPIs), but their reach in the south is still relatively small. TF1 entering the market is going to put significant strain on sales houses, who will have to fight to retain advertiser spends and could result in more competitive pricing in both regions. The additional revenue generated for Transfer is also good news, as it keeps them strong and may pave the way for them to introduce additional thematic channels to their package and the market.