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De Mol scoops soccer

Move could K.O. pubcaster NOS's Channel 2

AMSTERDAM — Dutch media mogul John de Mol won terrestrial broadcast rights to Dutch Premier League soccer highlights Wednesday, paying a record $54 million for a three-year deal.

Local pubcasters, who bid $43 million, are the big losers. It’s the first time the rights have gone to the commercial sector, and the move is expected to reshape the Dutch TV landscape.

It’s a huge boost for de Mol’s TV NL, a new five-hour programming block set to launch in August on Dutch channel Nickelodeon.

Deal gives TV NL the right to air the action from the top matches Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 2005 to 2008, guaranteeing huge auds in soccer-mad Holland.

TV NL already has rights to six World Cup away games in 2006.

Versatel, of which de Mol owns 42%, won the pay TV rights to the Premier League highlights, outbidding UPC’s Canal Plus in Holland, a pay TV outfit that currently owns the rights.

Versatel stock shot up 10% on the news, which broke just before the close of the Dutch stock market.

Decision of the Dutch KNVB soccer union’s 18 club members was unanimous. It’s a sign, de Mol said, of the trust they had in how these rights would be produced under his company’s direction.

The rights package altogether was sold for $94 million.

Pubcaster NOS director Gerard Dielessen said he was disappointed by the decision but ruled out any short-term downsizing of the NOS sports news section. NOS has produced the soccer highlights for the last 40 years.

If NOS does not pick up additional rights, it could cost the pubcaster group one of its channels. Although other broadcasters use Channel 2, soccer has been its raison d’etre.

Tim Groot contributed to this report.

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