Belgian TV producers in ownership struggle

Group warns about copyright demands, cost-cutting

BRUSSELS -- Belgian television producers appealed to the national government Tuesday for legal ownership of the programs and films they deliver to broadcasters, claiming that television's copyright demands could drive many of them under.

Television producers group VOTP said that broadcasters are increasingly insisting on all rights for TV productions made by external companies -- including rebroadcasts, DVD, cable distribution, merchandising and foreign rights. If this trend continues, VOTP said, most production companies will soon be bankrupt.

VOTP represents 18 production companies and two-thirds of the country's 100 most-watched TV programs. It said that Belgian productions are admired across Europe. Their homegrown series, talk shows, quizzes and games shows have flourished since the market opened up over a decade ago.

But in the face of a shrinking ad market, broadcasters are squeezing production companies, and this cost-cutting campaign could jeopardize Belgium's television output.

The appeal for more rights has already generated support from the regional government in Flanders, the northern, Dutch-speaking half of Belgium: Flemish Prime Minister Kris Peeters has said he will host conciliation talks soon between broadcasters and producers.