Media watchdog: ‘Advertising for live streams on VRT Max is not allowed’

The Flemish media watchdog VRM slaps the VRT on the fingers. The broadcaster is not allowed to show commercials on VRT Max before the live streams of One and Canvas. The VRT says it is ‘surprised by the verdict and is looking further into it internally’.

Anyone who wants to watch Canvas or One live via the free online platform VRT Max will now invariably see a few advertising videos first. Even if on that livestream at that moment just The news or another current program is in progress. That was one of the most remarkable changes that the public broadcaster made when the platform shifted from VRT Nu to VRT Max this summer.

That is not allowed, says the Flemish Regulator for the Media (VRM) now. After a complaint from a VRT Max viewer, the media watchdog has tested the broadcasting of those so-called prerolls – advertising messages that can start playing before the live streams – against the Flemish media decree. The VRM has come to the conclusion that the live streams of Canvas and One on VRT Max are subject to the same rules as the linear channels on TV. And advertising is prohibited on the linear channels of the public broadcaster, except ‘in the case of radio advertising and advertising aimed at self-promotion’.

Because the VRM is speaking out on this issue for the first time, the VRT receives a warning as a sanction. It is not yet entirely clear whether the public broadcaster will now cancel the prerolls and when exactly. In a short response to the news, VRT spokesman Jan Sulmont states that the VRT is ‘surprised by the verdict and is examining it further internally’. If the broadcaster continues to broadcast the advertisement on VRT Max, it risks fines.

Even before this statement by the Flemish media watchdog, the so-called pre-rolls in live streams on VRT Max were under fire. On the online platforms of commercial competitors, such as VTM GO, for example, there is no advertising for the start-up of the live streams. The idea is that the advertising is already included in the broadcasts. The fact that VRT Max does show prerolls was seen in the media sector as a symptom of the increasingly commercial course that the VRT is taking under its new CEO Frederik Delaplace and of savings on the VRT’s grant.

Read | ‘VRT’s commercial course annoys media companies’

There was also several annoyances in parliament about the commercial course and the advertising messages on VRT Max. The Flemish Minister of Media, Benjamin Dalle (CD&V), reported to the Media Committee last Thursday that he had reprimanded the VRT for the use of these types of advertising messages on VRT Max. “That’s something that bothers people and is actually not possible,” Dalle said in the Commission. According to him, the advertising messages in live reporting are at odds with the digital strategy of the public broadcaster. ‘The agreement is that digital applications should be as user-friendly as linear channels,’ said the minister. He also pointed out that the practice conflicts with the management agreement between the VRT and the Flemish government. Dalle said he also raised the objection with the VRT. “They understand our position and there will be an extinction scenario.”

Striking: it is the second time that the CD&V minister is keen on a strategic decision by the VRT management. When the broadcaster announced at the end of August that it would close the regional morning block of Radio 2, Dalle, in his own words, choked on his coffee. “Local news is very important to CD&V and it is also part of Radio 2’s DNA,” he said in a statement The last news.

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