Web inks first-look deal with 'Big' parent

PARIS — Commercial web TF1 has upped the ante in the French reality TV wars by signing a $300 million first-look deal with “Big Brother” producer Endemol.

TF1 is furious that smaller rival web M6 is stealing auds with its “Brother”-style “Loft Story,” also from Endemol.

Under the deal, the pan-European TV production group will provide TF1 with a new reality show every year for a rumored five years, kicking off with “Star Maker,” a talent-spotting format, in ’02.

TF1 has upped its order of primetime programs from Endemol, which produces about 30 primetime shows for the web annually as well as programming for other dayparts.

The pair also jointly will develop a pan-European, interactive nighttime format for Eurosport, a leading cable and satellite web controlled by TF1.

Deal, inked Sunday, caps a period of unprecedented rivalry between TF1 and smaller web M6, fueled by the runaway success of “Loft Story.”

Since its launch April 26, the skein has helped M6 up its audience share by more than one-third, from 12.6% to 16.7% in May, while TF1’s share fell 8% to 31.8%.

TF1’s own reality show, a variation on “Survivor,” will not air until later this year.

In a recent broadside against M6, TF1 chief exec Patrick Le Lay accused it of importing trash TV into France, an opinion echoed by many politicians and opinion-makers in recent weeks, despite the show’s popularity with viewers.

Some players question the wisdom of TF1’s deal with Endemol.

“Five years is a long time in television,” commented one industryite. “No one is sure what TV consumption is going to be like that far into the future. And Endemol may not always be as creative as it is today.”

The day after signing the TF1 deal, Endemol prexy and reality TV guru John de Mol played down the importance of “Big Brother”-style shows and revealed that the group planned to increase its fiction programming.

Fictional reconstruction

“Reality TV has become popular but on a small scale compared with the number of hours broadcast,” de Mol told French daily Les Echos. “I’m certain that, tomorrow, fiction will once again be more popular than reality TV.

“In France next year we will invest in fiction, either via acquisition or via our own means, by associating with talent. But in the next two years, Endemol will mostly be consolidating its position.”

In the past year, Telefonica-owned Endemol has positioned itself as Europe’s leading TV production group, aggressively buying into a plethora of production outfits. It claims to be one of the top three producers in Europe’s five major territories.

But while reality shows have raised Endemol’s international profile and driven its aggressive acquisitions policy, de Mol said they rep just 10% of the company’s revenues, which stood at 520 million euros ($438.4 million) in 2000 and are expected to almost double this year.

Fiction represents 40% of the company’s revenues, de Mol said.

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