Endemol to retain independence

Mediaset vows to keep hands off

ROME — While John de Mol’s return may prompt an executive stampede at Endemol, Mediaset is making it crystal clear that the Dutch TV content provider and the top Italo commercial web will continue to be run as two entirely autonomous entities.

“Mediaset will not manage Endemol,” Mediaset exec VP Piersilvio Berlusconi told Rome daily La Repubblica on Tuesday. “It already has a management, and it is excellent,” Silvio Berlusconi’s son added.

Mediaset leads the consortium that on Monday purchased a 75% controlling stake in Endemol, along with de Mol, and Goldman Sachs’ private equity, for E2.63 billion ($3.6 billion).

De Mol, who co-founded Endemol 13 years ago, is expected to take an active role in running the company. His return is likely to trigger the exit of Stephane Courbit, topper of its highly profitable French operation. Courbit had launched a rival bid.

Among Courbit’s colleagues also likely mulling an exit plan are top Endemol Spain execs Toni Cruz and Josep Maria Mainat — who had backed Courbit’s bid — and its chief creative officer, Peter Bazalgette.

In Italy the main issue in the immediate aftermath of Mediaset’s Endemol purchase is the fact that pubcaster RAI, Mediaset’s main rival, is heavily dependent on Endemol shows, including steady ratings winner “Deal or No Deal,” under a three-year, $162 million contract that expires in 2008.

Nonexclusive deal — the Italo version of “Big Brother” runs on Mediaset — is considered the bedrock of the pubcaster’s current programming schedule.

“From now on, I will personally root for RAI getting more of the top Endemol shows, and certainly not fewer (of them) than before,” Piersilvio Berlusconi vowed.

But Mediaset’s Endemol ownership is bound, in the long term, to bring about a new programming philosophy at RAI, boosting inhouse productions of more public-service type fare.

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