EBU interview

Interview voor de website van EBU. Ik publiceer het hieronder ook even.


Jean Philip De Tender, the General Manager of Eén at Flemish public service broadcaster VRT, has been elected to chair the EBU Television Committee for a two year term.

Here, he reflects on some of the challenges facing public service media (PSM) as it embraces a new digital world.

* In a media career spanning more than 25 years, you’ve presented and produced TV content; provided strategic advice and played an active role in the EBU Community. How did you get into the business of TV?

I studied interpreting Dutch – English – Modern Greek when on a blue Monday I did a screen test to become a pop music presenter. I did some presenting but very soon I realized I was much better behind the scenes than on screen.

I have passed through every stage at VRT, from producing to being an editor-in-chief, which still helps me a lot today. The people I collaborate with are aware that I know the business from the inside; it helps to understand one another’s problems. They keep tapes of my early presenting by the way … very confronting when you look back. The day I leave VRT they will show them in public, so I better continue working there. (smiles)

* What’s the biggest disruption you’ve witnessed ?

The shift from formatted television to authentic television. Ten years ago we would all go to MIP TV in Cannes and hunt for the newest format. At a certain point it almost became science; take a happy couple and their two kids, move them from the countryside to the capital, shake and you have 50 minutes of interesting television. Or replace mommy by a second father, shake and again you have something interesting to watch. And I could go on.  I am very happy that today’s audience expects television to be real. It has always been my mission to show real people, with real stories and real emotions. That is why I now commission authentic authenticity.

* In 1987, you hosted VRT’s scientific programme Horizon. Is there a role for PSM to play in creating specialized theme channels?

PSM should cover all domains. News comes first, but then there is also sports, culture, education and even entertainment. The problem with specialized theme channels is that they reach a niche audience. I am more in favour of broad generalistic channels that cover all of these domains in a way that can interest a large audience, combined with some smaller channels that cover them more in depth. PSM is also about bringing information and science to a large audience in an entertaining way. On VRT’s first channel Eén we currently have a finance programme that is not about banking but about how much pocket money you give your children. Or about how to negotiate a better price when buying a new television set. That is what matters to people during a financial crisis.

* You’re also the author of “Alles is een verhaal” (Everything is a story). Has the trend towards producing cheaper reality TV been at the expense of good story telling?

In my book I tell that everyone and everything is a story. I am convinced that searching for the real stories will gain us a better understanding of the world. I know we are all suffering from financial pressure; we get less money to do the same job and at the same time we have to prove that PSM is still relevant today. But I get inspired by young people, because they are very good storytellers. Everybody is born a storyteller and the new social media, from Facebook to Twitter and everything in between, gives them the floor. I am amazed at how articulate they are. They write, design, draw, film, create … at no cost. At the same time they are entrepreneurs. They will redefine how media will be in the future, so we better start listening to them today.

* With so many competing platforms, why is public service media still relevant ?

Relevance is not about platforms. PSM are all about return on society; what role can we play to make society better? Commercial media are about return on investment; I know of commercial news companies that pay their journalists by the number of clicks their articles get. So if controversial articles sell better, then why bother to take your time to really investigate something ? News is core to what we do. News in a broad sense of the word, that is. Informing and guiding people in their daily lives is very important. I am reflecting a lot about trusted sources lately and I think that two questions are crucial: ‘who is paying for the news?’ and ‘what source does the news come from?’ What we make should be made available on all platforms and be made sharable – with us, the public service media, as a well branded trusted source.

* European broadcasters are constantly torn between balancing costly innovation against cutting overheads: High definition TV is used for sports, but not yet for daily programming and news programmes. Asian broadcasters, whose pockets are deeper, realize that HDTV differentiates them from YouTube. Should we be following?

Technology is evolving quickly and I find it hard to follow. In the end it is the audience that will decide. It is not about inventing new things, but about how they give people more comfort. That is why we have to investigate how technological decisions impact the way people consume media. When I am at home on the couch, viewing and listening, I like to have the highest quality in image and sound, but when I am on the road I am satisfied with a smaller screen and lower quality. The difference between HDTV and YouTube is that the first is about technological standards and the second about setting up a relationship with your audience. YouTube is a strong content brand offering people the possibility to share and watch interesting and fun content.

* How does PSM reconcile satisfying the needs of traditional viewers and attracting youth audiences?

I guess that the last few years we had a wrong focus. Youth audiences leave traditional media and shift to other platforms, but we should focus on content rather than platforms.  We have to redefine the risk and turn it into an opportunity. Young people share the same values as other generations; the world being so small, they really want to take care of it. Their values fit perfectly what the core of public service media is. They think about healthy food, climate change, equal rights for everybody wherever they live, education … We should start a dialogue with young people and get them involved in the subjects we address on our media. For sure they have a different viewing pattern, so we have to meet them: invite them on our family channels, let them share our content, let them have their proper channels … Members of the EBU should first redefine their relationship with the young instead of deciding what they have to consume, as we do now. Wouldn’t it be a good idea to have a EBU Youth Summit?

* How do you see the relationship between TV and other platforms developing?

In the past media was locked at a certain place: your television in one room, your radio in another one. The computer was in your study, until the laptop was invented. Then one day you could move your laptop as far as the length of your ethernet cable. Now you move that laptop wherever you want, and your content is in the cloud. The same goes for your radio and television; today you take a screen, move it and consume your media. We at VRT no longer talk about television, internet or radio consumption but about media moments. Every day we have hundreds, thousands of such moments. The mornings are rush moments, the evening relax moments. That influences the type of content you consume and the way you consume it. I was thrilled when I saw that study; once we have a better understanding of such media moments we will be able to better serve the public. Reaching an audience with your message will become more important than counting live viewing.

* What have you identified as your priorities as Chairman of the TV Committee?

I would like to turn our two major risks – the digital shift and reaching the youth – into opportunities. These two challenges are very much interrelated. And I hope to have as broad a dialogue as possible amongst the EBU members and to open up the debate to other players as well. So reactions are always welcome at jeanphilip.detender@vrt.be or at @jeanphilip on Twitter.

* On a more personal note, can you describe your ideal night of TV programming?

I like news, drama and a good documentary. I am very much looking forward to our newest drama ‘In Flemish Fields’ about the Great War. My briefing was that it needed to be a series that would open up the eyes of the young people, because war is not about something happening 100 years ago. Children play war games, whilst on a different continent children of the same age have to fight a real war.

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