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Telenet takes over Woestijnvis owner to fight SVOD rivals

Belgian cable operator has agreed to take full control of De Vijver Media, putting it in charge of the VIER, VIJF and ZES commercial channels and the Woestijnvis production house.

The Liberty Global-owned operator said the deal will allow it to respond faster and more effectively to innovations in viewing experience or advertising, against a backdrop of changing viewer behaviour and the increasing power of global players like Netflix and Amazon.

Telenet is buying Mediahuis’ 30% stake and shareholders Wouter Vandenhaute and Erik Watté’s (Waterman & Waterman’s) 20% stake as in the business. This gives Telenet the 50% in De Vijver Media it does not already own.

At the same time Mediauis, which owns a number of newspaper and news brands in Belgium and the Netherlands, is setting up a 50-50 joint venture with SBS Belgium and establishing a sales office to provide online video and cross-media solutions.

“We are pleased to be able to take this next step in our ‘connected entertainment’ strategy,” said Telenet CEO John Porter. “As the owner of a production house with strong local roots and a number of thriving commercial channels, Telenet can speed up the realisation of new viewing experiences and respond to the new ways in which media are consumed.”

Telenet said that it will work with De Vijver Media on new ways to provide end-users with programmes on a broader range of formats, thereby remaining an important partner for advertisers.

De Vijver Media’s chairman of the board, Wouter Vandenhaute, will continue in his current position after the deal, which he said comes at a “crossroads” moment for both the company and the Flemish media landscape.

“The audiovisual sector is facing challenges, partly because of the rapidly changing viewing behaviour. The full acquisition of De Vijver Media by Telenet is the best guarantee for a successful future,” said Vandenhaute.

“Telenet has the resources and the knowhow to guide SBS and Woestijnvis through this changing landscape. Local content is the motive and the essential purpose of De Vijver Media, which also happens to be the reason Telenet entered this scene three years ago.”

Mediahuis CEO Gert Ysebaert said the company’s sale of its De Vijver Media stake should be seen as a “clear decision” to focus on its Belgian-Dutch organisation and the digital development of its media and services.

“In line with this digital strategy, the enhanced partnership with SBS will enable us to further strengthen our position within the rapidly evolving online video market, and to offer advertisers high-impact cross-media options,” said Ysebaert.

“We are convinced that Telenet is the most appropriate party to give SBS additional impact within the challenging and quickly evolving television landscape.”

Mediahuis and SBS Belgium, through their JV, are setting up a national advertising sales office that will focus on the marketing of the online video activities of both Mediahuis and SBS.

Telenet first bought a 50% stake in Belgium’s De Vijver Media in 2014, after buying Finnish media group Sanoma’s shares for €26 million (US$32.6 million) and making an additional €32 million cash investment in the firm. The acquisition price of the new deal was not disclosed.

The news comes after Woestijvnis partnered with Lecter Media and DeMensen to launch Fabiola, an Amsterdam-based producer led by former Eyeworks International chief Pieter van Eekelen.