The Way Out 

 Code van Coppens, sold abroad as The Way Out, is an example of one of VTM’s international hits. The escape room show, which revolves around the brothers Mathias and Staf Coppens, first aired in Flanders, in 2019. Its fourth season drew enormous ratings last year. The format has been sold to broadcasters in the Netherlands, Wallonia and Denmark, and has been on TV for multiple seasons in these regions. A version of the programme shot in the original escape room in Belgium is also available throughout the Middle East.

In 2022, VTM once again managed to launch a number of successful new and surprising shows. How are TV programmes conceived and developed, and what does it take for a show to become an internationally successful format?

A family is given half an hour to find 100,000 euros hidden in their own home (Wie zoekt die Wint). Young couples fix up a ruin, and at the end of the series one couple wins the house (Huis Gemaakt). Two pairs of contestants compete against each other to break out of an escape room as quickly as possible (Code van Coppens). 

They might seem like simple ideas at first glance, but all three of these formats spawned incredibly successful programmes that aired on VTM in 2022. And while it may only take a split second to come up with an idea, turning it into an effective format that’s good enough for TV can be a lengthy process. Sometimes it’s a matter of a few months, other times it takes more than a year.

 Leen Lombaert 

(45), head of Factual, DPG Media

PIT, VTM and Be-Entertainment

With in-house production studio PIT, TV channel VTM and format distributor Be-Entertainment, DPG Media owns the entire chain, from idea to format. It’s an ideal situation: PIT comes up with and produces a programme, it airs on VTM and Be-Entertainment sells it abroad. VTM also works with external production companies that pitch ideas to the channel, which leads to new programmes as well.

Once an idea or pitch manages to excite creative director Davy Parmentier and his team, it’s presented to VTM’s channel managers. Then, if everyone shares their excitement, the channel either places an order with the production company or VTM allocates a development budget and fleshes out the concept together with the creators.

“In that development phase, we try to find the format’s must-see quality,” explains Leen Lombaert, DPG Media’s head of Factual. “How can we make sure that a programme becomes the next day’s ‘water cooler conversation’? We also think about the ‘beats’ of each episode: those exciting moments when you want to turn up the sound on your TV. This can be a deliberately built-in plot twist in a game or round, a contestant getting eliminated or the return of a well-known character. We also explore how we can offer content across multiple channels, for instance with a second-screen app, a Shortie (a short video) on VTM GO, or a collaboration with Qmusic or HLN.” 

 Gepke Nederlof

(42), Managing Director Be-Entertainment

The best formats

Once the structure is in place, the producer can move on and VTM starts providing input to ensure that the finished programme makes sense conceptually, and that it fits the channel. This is also when Be-Entertainment gets involved. “That’s to determine if we can tweak the concept so it can be sold internationally,” says managing director Gepke Nederlof. “The best formats aren’t predicated on the talent of local creators but can be used by anyone in the world, so to speak. That’s why it’s so important to create a foolproof structure. If you’ve got a tight, rock-solid format and an exciting, or better yet, unique idea, your chances of international success are many times higher. The stronger the format, the easier it is to sell.”

One thing that strikes Nederlof, who is Dutch, is the attention to detail that goes into programme development in Flanders. “There’s love for the programme and a sense of craftsmanship. Creators really go the extra mile and ask themselves: are we there yet or can we do even better? Every little detail is scrutinised. That way of doing things leads to a higher level of quality.”

Incredibly satisfying

Some programmes, such as game shows, are pretested by recording a pilot episode. And programmes are still subject to rigorous scrutiny once they’ve made it on TV. “Even if it’s a big hit, we won’t be satisfied until all the kinks are ironed out,” says Lombaert. “That’s why we put a lot of work into the second season of Huis Gemaakt, which aired on VTM in 2022. We went from 12 to 20 episodes, including a finale week that did very well. That’s incredibly satisfying.”

Each year, about six or seven titles can be sold internationally – a fraction of all the new programmes VTM produces, which allows Be-Entertainment to get the cream of the crop. “It’s a luxury for us that VTM is bold enough to launch so many new programmes every year,” says Nederlof. “We always want to surprise viewers with our programming,” Lombaert adds. 

“We never just copy and paste the previous season.”