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Crime drama in Flanders: programming trends

Are European TV schedules dominated by US shows? Elise Favere examines the situation in Flanders, focusing on the example of crime series.

The US dominance of the global trade in television programmes has long raised concerns in Europe about the ‘Americanisation’ of TV schedules. At the same time, drawing on theories of ‘cultural proximity’, many academics note that European audiences still tend to prefer local and national television programmes to American content, as these reflect their own cultural identity.

But what are the current trends in acquisition and programming strategies in Europe? How do public service broadcasters differ from commercial operators?

To answer these questions, I compared the acquisition and programming of crime series on the Flemish public broadcaster channels Eén and Canvas (both of which are owned by the national public service broadcaster VRT) with their commercial rivals VTM (owned by Medialaan) and VIER (owned by SBS Belgium). The research involved quantitative analysis of TV programming guides from 2009 to 2015.

Small investments in Flemish crime series

Figure 1: Original Crime series Eén

Figure 1: Original Crime series Eén

Despite a public service requirement to promote Flemish culture and national identity, only 8% of the crime series on VRT’s two channels are Flemish (figure 1). Eén offers crime series from a wide variety of countries including France (Profilage), Germany (Tatort: Inspector Lindholm) and Switzerland (Maigret). 40% of its programmes are British-made, including the series Midsomer Murders, Murdoch Mysteries, Vera and Agatha Christie’s Poirot.

Meanwhile, VRT’s other channel, Canvas, has no Flemish crime series. 40% of its crime dramas are British and 40% are American productions (figure 2). The channle also devotes considerable attention to Nordic Noir crime dramas from Denmark and Sweden. The acquisition of such crime series as The Killing, The Bridge, The Fjällbacka Murders, Den fördömde and Wallander have helped to build a distinctive brand for the channel.

Figure 2: Original Crime Series Canvas

Figure 2: Original Crime Series Canvas

Commercial broadcasters VTM and VIER devote most of their programming to American crime series, although there are clear differences in how the two channels incorporate this genre. VTM chooses to balance American productions with local Flemish content, while VIER is completely dominated by American crime series.

VIER presents itself as “the channel for American crime lovers”. Popular American series like The Mentalist, Castle, NCIS and Criminal Minds dominate both the daily and prime time schedule, with some programmes shown up to tree times a day. Many of its American crime series are produced by major US companies, such as NBC Universal Television and the CBS Corporation.

Maintaining the public value

VRT mostly succeeds in maintaining its public service commitment to promote Flemish culture and national identity. Taking into account the issue of cultural proximity, it does programme national crime productions in primetime. At the same time, it also offers programmes from a diversity of countries.

Whereas VTM and VIER broadcaster hybrid genres, such as scripted reality and reality crime series, mostly from Australia or New Zealand (e.g. Recruits and Dog Squad), VRT mostly sticks to scripted crime fiction. Due to recent funding cuts, VRT has also begun to increase the amount of re-runs of crime series, undermining its distinctiveness as a standard-bearer for new programmes.

Elise Favere is a Master student at Vrije Universiteit Brussel. Her thesis dealt with crime drama on Flemish TV.

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