After two years of power play, private equity firm Apollo Global Management appears poised to take control of Big Brother producer Endemol. The Dutch production company inherited billions of dollars in debt following the 2007 buyout, believed to have ballooned to $4.1 billion in 2011 before it was restructured. After the restructuring, Apollo ended up with the largest portion of Endemol debt, giving it a stake of about 30% in the company. Endemol’s owners also include the company’s co-founder John de Mol through the investment company Dasym Investment Strategies, which handles some of his money. Both Apollo and de Mol had reportedly been looking to take control of Endemol. Now it seems Apollo is succeeding. I hear there is no signed deal yet, but such an outcome appears very likely, sparking a lot of market chatter.
UPDATED: In a competitive situation, Fox has picked up Utopia, a new social experiment reality series from Big Brother creator John de Mol and his Talpa Media US. The project is based on a format by de Mol that successfully launched in the Netherlands earlier this month, sparking a lot of interest among U.S. networks. It marks the first series greenlighted by Fox’s new head of alternative Simon Andreae. The show is eyed for a summer launch but that has not been set in stone and will depend on how quickly the network and de Mol select a location and a cast.
Utopia will feature a group of 15 everyday people whisked to an isolated, undeveloped location in the U.S. – for an entire year – and challenges them to create their own civilization. Like the original, the series is envisioned to last a year but its length will depend on what happens in Utopia. “One of the key things we liked about the idea is that is very bold and open,” Andreae said. “They have the opportunity to create a society, and we don’t know to what degree they will succeed — will it be harmonious, or will there be a revolution or another event that will put an end to it?” Like on Big Brother, there will be eliminations. As the Utopians build the new society, each contestant must try to become indispensable to the group or risk being exiled to their regular lives and replaced by potential newcomers. (The original series has new participants joining at part of the elimination process, but it has not been determined whether the Fox version will feature that.) Cameras will follow the pioneers 24/7, with their efforts chronicled weekly on Fox and also online (and possibly on cable). The online component of the original series has been very successful, something the producers will try to replicate in the U.S.
Is This The Next Hot Reality Format? John De Mol’s Social Experiment ‘Utopia’ Off To Strong Start In Holland, Heads To U.S.
With the talent competition arena pretty saturated by Fox’s American Idol and The X Factor, NBC’s The Voice and America’s Got Talent, soon to be joined by ABC’s Rising Star, and the cooking broadcast market cornered by Gordon Ramsay, reality industry insiders have been tipping social experiments as the next hot unscripted genre. Now the man behind the most successful social experiment format to date, Big Brother creator John de Mol, is throwing his hat into the ring with his latest series, Utopia, in which 15 people set up their own new society. Like he does with most of his formats, which include global hit The Voice and Deal Or No Deal, de Mol launched Utopia in his native Holland, where the show premiered Monday night on SBS 6, part of SBS Broadcasting’s Dutch operations, in which de Mol’s Talpa Media has a 33% stake. The debut exceeded expectations, ranking as SBS 6′s highest-rated nonscripted premiere in six years. It won its time slot and pulled a 25.2% share in adults 18-49, improving the network’s market share in the time period by 500%, and drew almost 1.6 million overall viewers compared to SBS’ average viewership in the slot of 300,000. I hear at least one US network already has reached out to the Utopia producers, with Talpa Media USA’s chief creative officer Stijn Bakkers, executive producer of The Voice, and SVP Sadoux Kim expected to begin meeting with American broadcasters early next week about an U.S. version.
Social experiments formats have been heating up, with former Fox reality topper Mike Darnell also said to be shopping a series in that arena with Shed’s Twenty Twenty. In Utopia, 15 contestants leave their current lives to create their own ideal mini-society while being followed by hundreds of cameras. (Watch a trailer in Dutch below.)
EXCLUSIVE: Dutch media entrepreneur John de Mol‘s company Talpa already has established a presence in the US with NBC’s reality hit The Voice, co-created and executive produced by de Mol. Now de Mol is taking that presence to the next level, turning Talpa Media USA into a full-fledged independent production company and hiring Simon Jones to run it. Jones joins Talpa Media USA as CEO after a six-year stint at Simon Cowell’s Syco Entertainment. For the last two years, Jones served as COO of Syco Television USA, overseeing all of Syco’s TV operations in the US and helping establish the company’s US operations. Jones, a 20-year TV veteran, started off in his native Britain before crossing the pond. He served as Controller of Business Affairs at ITV, Executive Producer of American Idol for FremantleMedia and SVP Operations for the The X Factor and Got Talent franchises at Syco. He also ran the successful X Factor UK arena tour and a live stage version of America’s Got Talent in Las Vegas. “At a moment like this, people are used to say that they have found the right man for the job. So sorry for the cliche, but Simon is exactly that!,” said Talpa Holding CEO Pim Schmitz. “Simon’s appointment with Talpa Media USA fits in Talpa’s strategy to have our own production companies in the key markets of the world. Other territories will follow, but of course the US is number one when it comes to that strategy.”
In addition to The Voice, Talpa Media USA’s credits include NBC’s upcoming singing game show The Winner Is… and the 2009 ABC series Dating In The Dark, all three based on worldwide Talpa formats. All three have been done as co-productions, with another company handling the actual production. While Talpa Media USA will continue to partner up with other companies when needed, it is looking to transition to producing more and more of its own shows and to grow its portfolio of broadcast and cable reality series. Talpa’s US plans are reminiscent of the way de Mol built a strong U.S. production arm of his previous global media company, Endemol. “This is a fantastic opportunity to work at such a dynamic and ambitious company headed by the – almost legendary – John de Mol,” Jones said.
2ND UPDATE: A key insider at Endemol explains to me, “I think there were issues in the way he ran the company and the decsions he made, and he lost the support of many of the employees. Like when you have a coach of a soccer team the players don’t buy into the way he’s managing the team.” Not only unpopular, Ynon Kreiz exits as Endemol is facing a 900 million euro write-off of loans to the Dutch-based company which produces Big Brother among many other unscripted shows around the world. Endemol also said this month it’s exploring options to restructure its debt as widening losses will cause it to breach covenants on 2.8 billion euros of loans, including 325 million euros of mezzanine debt used to fund its 2007 buyout. Reports are circulating of buyout interest from ITV, Time Warner, and News Corp. “Clearly there are debt issues and we’re going through a financial restructuring. There also was unhappiness with a huge payout to Kreiz, which didn’t sit well,” the key insider tells me. “But from a standpoint of creativity and new shows and long-running franchises and diversification of the company, we’re on solid ground.”
The announcement of a shakeup at the top was made today by Endemol’s shareholder board (different from the usual board of directors) and first published by the Financial Times. The mogul’s exit follows a three-year period of massive dealmaking and restructuring by Kreiz, who has been chairman/CEO of the Dutch-based global leader in entertainment programming and the world’s largest independent television and digital production company since June 1, 2008. Kreiz follows out the door the Endemol chief commercial officer Tom Toumazis, who exited a few weeks ago. (“Believe me, I didn’t send him a fruit basket either,” an insider snarks.) But lest anyone doubt it, Endemol is still alive and well as the unscripted giant produces content and partners with more than 400 broadcasters and cross-media platforms worldwide as part of a global network of more than 80 companies in 26 countries employing about 6,500 people.
In its biggest challenge to Fox’s American Idol (and X Factor), NBC has ordered The Voice of America (working title), a singing competition show from leading reality producers John de Mol (Big Brother) and Mark Burnett (Survivor) and Warner Horizon Television. The show, in which contestants vie for a recording contract, is modeled after the Dutch version of the show (The Voice of Holland), which is the country’s #1 talent competition show in Holland. More from NBC’s release:
That’s the only option open to shareholders Mediaset, Goldman Sachs and Cyrte, one media analyst tells me. Whether Mediaset owner Silvio Berlusconi or TV magnate John De Mol, the man behind Cyrte, will be happy doing so is another question. I’m …
EXCLUSIVE: The European TV producer Endemol will not be among those bidding for the UK’s fifth terrestrial channel. ITV has also walked away from the auction, as has BSkyB and Time Warner. Endemol’s founder John De Mol is bidding, as is …
Richard Desmond, owner of Express Newspapers, is seen as a frontrunner to buy UK terrestrial channel Five. Other bidders include John De Mol, founder of TV producer Endemol (Big Brother), and Endemol itself, which De Mol’s investment company Cyrte Investments owns …