In the Netherlands, during the somewhat sombre 1980s, video rental stores were one of the great icons of the times, and video was the beacon of the filmed entertainment industry as the TV landscape was then pretty old-fashioned.
With only two public channels and a few German broadcasters, at its peak Holland counted 7,000 video rental outlets – approximately one for every 2,000 Dutch people. Pretty innovative in the worldwide rental business – but conservative in the TV world.
In the 1990s, the Dutch market was much the same as it had been the previous decade – even though commercial broadcasting slowly but surely emerged from 1989, rental remained the key window. Sell-through VHS still struggled to break out of the Disney comfort zone and pay TV was a small (and barely profitable) business.
Then, in the 2000s, the Netherlands suddenly became a fast-growing innovative leader, thanks to companies such as the Dutch multinational Philips, which was one of a few operations that pioneered the DVD and CD.
Following the US, the UK, Japan, Germany and France, the Benelux region also became one of the biggest DVD markets. After the glory days of disc domination, transactional VoD (TVoD) had a hard time in conquering Dutch hearts. Tampered by illegal downloading (highly innovative in Holland) or the fact that consumers didn’t want to throw their disc collection in the trash bin (conservative), the TVoD business never really matured.
Furthermore, TVoD was dominated by (conservative) cable companies behind set-top boxes and triple-play subscription models. New services like iTunes and other OTT players only came into their own during the Netflix era. When they hit the market at the end of 2013, the subscription VoD (SVoD) business exploded and within two years it appeared that demand for subscription TV had been there all the time and the country went from a struggling pay TV market to an exemplary SVoD business almost overnight.
Now, Holland might be one of the highest penetrated SVoD markets in the world and is even a test market for recently launched SVoD service Disney+.
The prosperous VoD business resulted in greater demand for quality content as each player in the small Benelux region needs to have outstanding programming to attract subscribers. And it is not enough to just fill their slates with Hollywood productions and foreign drama series.
Furthermore, the European Commission decided last year that each streaming service, such as Netflix and Amazon, should offer at least 30% of local content on their platforms. This decision created a great need for local quality drama from the streamers and skyrocketed programme production in Benelux.
As the platforms started to invest in production, producers were no longer dependent on the cooperation of traditional broadcasters. Now, films and series are not just created for cinema or linear TV (with VoD as a second or third window) but instead go straight to the streaming platforms with exclusive licences.
In light of this and speaking as a Benelux distributor, it soon became evident that we needed to become part of the production process in order to maximise our revenues.
The demand for more local content and the higher budgets (also with the help of financial incentives such as the Belgian Tax Shelter and the Dutch Production Incentive) has resulted in strong productions from the region, which can compete with big foreign productions.
In turn, our high-quality productions generate interest beyond our borders. For example, the Belgian-Dutch crime series Undercover, originally created for ‘traditional’ Belgian broadcaster VRT, is exclusively shown on SVoD in the rest of the world as the first Dutch-language series on Netflix worldwide.
Although SVoD seems to rule the Benelux on-demand market, there remains an age group that is hard to reach for film and TV productions. The younger audience favours short and fast content, preferably on a free platform. Advertiser-supported VoD (AVoD) platforms such as YouTube play a leading role in this and vloggers are dominating that world: they highly influence the viewing habits of their followers.
The wish to attract a young generation of viewers now results in a new trend: the inclusion of vloggers in film and TV productions with guest appearances or paid advertising.
So, working with this current trend, at Dutch FilmWorks we are taking things a step further and this year we’ll release a film about (and featuring) a famous YouTuber entitled Project Gio.
The trailer attracted over half a million views on YouTube within 24 hours, so this seems to be a way of attracting younger audiences to ‘conservative platforms’ such as the cinema. With technology still being developed at such a fast pace and new platforms launching to satisfy the ever-changing viewer demands, one thing remains constant – innovation will always be key.
By Willem Pruijssers