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Is Dutch public TV going dark on advertising?

Gerrit Nagel

Like almost every year, the discussion started recently around whether Dutch public television should follow the English/BBC example of abolishing advertising on Dutch broadcasting service, NPO 1, 2 and 3.

According to NPO’s chairman, “NPO does not want to be dependent anymore of the whimsical advertising market and therefore the ad breaks should be abolished step by step…and NPO’s programming should not be influenced by commercial stimulus”. Needless to say, this would have to be compensated somehow by the government via an increase of taxes which would roughly amount to 80 cents per month per Dutch (wo)man. Obviously, like every year, this is followed by opinions from all relevant parties, like the BVA (union of advertisers) and the PMA (Platform of Media Agencies) as well as from the managing director of NPO’s sales house, Ster, who are strongly against such measures.

Ster’s Managing Director, Frank Volmer, can be accused of being somewhat biased of course. “Thoughtless and short-sighted” is how he refers to eliminating advertising on public television. Which might be right, looking at the success of high-rated programmes like the news, football and talk shows such as ‘Jinek’ and ‘DWDD’ (see below) that attract large numbers of viewers and thus advertising revenues. Zero advertising would certainly mean terminating some of those programmes. For decades a quarter of the annual budget for public TV is funded out of advertising money (more than €200 million). But these revenues have decreased in recent years due to the shift from watching linear (watched live) TV to digital platforms like Netflix, and the decrease in popularity of public radio targeted to younger audiences. Nevertheless, expectations for the future are better as Ster’s changes in commercial policy (e.g. getting rid of high discounted annual client contracts and agency volume bonuses) seem to be leading them to the desired €200 million again.

The advertisers, supported by the media agencies, fear that this would have a devastating influence on the quality of NPO’s radio and television programming which would mean losing out on advertising budgets to foreign media companies who obviously do not contribute to the quality of Dutch television and economy. Furthermore, public television reaches target audiences that are hardly reached through other media channels so they would remain deprived of important information.

So, to end the discussions, NPO had GfK research the public TV viewer’s opinion on advertising, which actually proved that the consumer has no problem at all with it. In fact, 51% of the viewers would rather not see public channels or other services being stopped to facilitate ad-free public television. Only 24% were in favour of it. So eventually the NPO came back to their initial opinion and have now asked the Minister not to go for an ad-ban on public TV.

All Response Media viewpoint
There are actually only a few European countries where the public channels do not carry advertising, of which the UK indeed is one of them. The others are Denmark, Finland and Estonia, but even alleged ad-free countries like Belgium, Sweden and Norway cheat a bit by offering sponsoring opportunities. Abolishing advertising on public channels would indeed be a bad idea as we know that these in general offer good daytime programming, addressed to specific target audiences which leads to excellent campaign results.