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New VRT CEO faces savings and stiff competition

Frederik Delaplace, the new CEO of the VRT © Belga

The Flemish government has chosen Frederik Delaplace to be the new CEO of the public broadcaster VRT.

Delaplace is currently CEO of Mediafin, which publishes the twin financial dailies De Tijd and L’Echo. Mediafin is a small company, with only 260 employees, but packs a big punch thanks to the reputation of its main properties.

The way Delaplace has led the digitalisation of the two papers was one of the factors that impressed the government, according to media minister Benjamin Dalle (CD&V), who went so far as to say the government was “charmed”.

Delaplace takes over from Paul Lembrechts, who was pushed out in January this year after a clash with the VRT board over the question of expensive external contracts signed by director Peter Claes without consulting other directors.

Lembrechts refused to sack Claes, in direct opposition to the board, and as a result both men were shown the door.

Delaplace was one of three candidates for the CEO job.

The others were also newspapermen: Koen Clement, a director with De Persgroep that publishes Het Laatste Nieuws and De Morgen; and Peter Vandermeersch, who as editor-in-chief transformed De Standaard before being head-hunted to lead the Dutch financial daily NRC Handelsblad.

There were three strong candidates,” explained Dalle. “We were particularly charmed by the digitisation that Delaplace has launched at Mediafin.”

De Tijd now has more readers online than on paper, and only one in seven new subscribers (the paper’s website is locked behind a paywall) chooses to have a physical paper delivered., opting instead for digital-only. Although the weekend edition, with its colour supplement Sabato, remains popular.

One of the first jobs facing the new CEO will be to defend the VRT’s interests in talks with Telenet, which owns TV channel VIER, and with DPG Media, parent of VTM, over the creation of a sort of Flemish Netflix – a subscription channel based around Flemish fiction.

The two partners need to get their hands on the back catalogue of the VRT to have any credibility, and Delaplace needs to be able to wring as much as possible out of the deal for the public broadcaster.

At the same time, he faces the perennial problem of a tight government budget together with expanding public expectations. Add to that the need to reach an agreement with the government on the governing accord for the VRT from January 2021 on.

And the fact that instead of 260 employees at Mediafin, he has to face more than 2,000 at the VRT, represented by some fearless, perhaps even headstrong, trade unions.

Ninety percent of my current position is communication and strategy,” he said on the announcement of his appointment. “I will bring that with me to ensure that everyone stays on board.”

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times

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