Brussels is the leading location for media production and activities in Belgium and represents a major international cluster for information production. But this concentration is characterised by a small number of large media organisations (RTBF, VRT, RTL, Kinepolis, Rossel, Mediafin, JCDecaux and IP Belgium), alongside a multitude of small-sized and micro-companies. With the internationalisation of the sector, Brussels is struggling to attract the head offices of big international media companies, and their presence is often limited to contact or representation offices. Furthermore, at national level, there have been more and more relocations or plans to relocate Dutch-language media to Antwerp or at least towards the north of the Brussels region, while French-language media have been strengthening their production centres in Wallonia. As regards the most “industrial” activities in the sector, in particular publishing and printing, some of them have left the central urban space for outlying activity clusters.
The mediapark.brussels project is taking place in this context. This significant strategic action of the government of the Brussels-Capital Region is centred on the urban and property development of the Reyers site. This project is aimed at creating a media cluster around RTBF and VRT, associated with the construction of a vast group of buildings, studios, housing, commercial installations, etc. The underlying idea is to favour the interactions and development of companies around the major stakeholders at the site, through proximity and spatial concentration.
It remains to be seen as to whether the conditions actually exist in order for this challenge to be a success. This is the subject of the synopsis published in the 129th issue of Brussels Studies by a team of researchers at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Université libre de Bruxelles and Université Saint-Louis – Bruxelles, conducting research together on mediaclusters.brussels.
After objectifying the significance and the components of the media sector in Brussels and defining the notions of cluster and community of practice – a concept which conveys the many forms of interaction in a sector where relations are very important – the authors present several reflections based on their observations.
The first is to take into consideration all of the constituent entities of media clusters. Of course, (big) companies have a major role to play in them, but in a sector where there are many self-employed people and where analysis and creativity prevail, workers and their logic of organisation are essential to the proper functioning of a cluster. In short, this also entails the development of human capital, which is not easy in a sector where a certain precariousness reigns.
Next, while there is an emphasis on the mediapark.brussels project, the stakeholders should be aware of the existence of other media clusters in Brussels. Should they be offered the same development possibilities, or should mediapark.brussels be the sole focus? And how can we prevent this project from siphoning off the activities from other local media clusters in the city?
Finally, the tensions created by a project such as the mediapark in Brussels must not be overlooked. Due to its competence in matters related to urban and economic development, the Brussels Region favours an approach through territorial and property development while the Flemish and French communities have a more sectoral approach with respect to the cultural and media industries. These approaches must merge somehow. And the idea of supporting local industry comes up against the will to attract international stakeholders. Not to mention the fact that tension exists between the development or creation of a media cluster encompassing a wide range of activities and the reinforcement of an audiovisual specialisation at Reyers.
In the end, providing an up-to-date infrastructure may be a good start, but an effort must be made to ensure that it is used by all stakeholders in the media sector.
Marlen Komorowski, Victor Wiard, Sabri Derinöz, Ike Picone, David Domingo and Geoffroy Patriarche, “A mediapark in Brussels? The media industry and its regional dynamics”, Brussels Studies [Online], BSI synopsis, No 129, 12 November 2018.