Format king de Mol faces a new future

Industry giant likely to delve back into creative side of TV

AMSTERDAM Dutch media industry analysts, creatives and moneymen are waiting for the fallout when John de Mol leaves reality giant Endemol at the end of April.

The chief creative officer has made it clear what he won’t do when he leaves the company he helped found 10 years ago. He tells Variety he won’t be personally involved in EMI Music, Fox Kids Europe, British soccer team Manchester United or any of the other firms in which his company Talpa Capital has shares.

“The stakes I’ve bought will remain just that: investments,” he says.

De Mol, however, is coy about what he will be doing. He is bound by contract with Endemol’s parent company Telefonica not to start up a competing business until Jan. 1. But he has had a flurry of meetings with format creatives in Holland and internationally in recent weeks.

“Whatever I will be doing, it will involve the creative side of television, and it will involve formats. It’s what I do and what I’m good at,” he says, adding that if he starts up a rival to Endemol — as many here expect — “it would not involve just TV but multimedia platforms.”

De Mol began extolling the virtues of multimedia five years ago but admits “the industry wasn’t quite ready for the multiplatform revolution. Now,” he says, “it is really taking off.”

In criticizing Spanish telco Telefonica for its “lack of clarity” in its strategy in the last couple of years, he also gives some hint of a possible de Mol strategy in the making.

Endemol has picked up stakes in a few multimedia production companies in the last couple of years but not as much as de Mol wanted. He complained Endemol “could have grown so much. We had a down market, and that is the time to acquire, but not enough happened on that front.”

De Mol is clearly not going to be playing it safe. He chides the TV industry for not taking risks, adding that “the next big thing is not a copy of a copy of a copy but something that comes from another corner entirely. In order to get to that corner, you have to take risks.”

De Mol leaves a company that is one of the success stories of European media but one that is also rocked by indecision and worries about a mass exit following his ankling.

Unico Glorie, once the flag-waver for Endemol’s international interactive plans, left in October and took his team Taco Ketelaar and Kees Abrahams with him to form interactive company 2WayTraffic.

Former chairman and CEO Aat Schouwenaar left at the end of March. Endemol’s chief press aide Thomas Notermans, who has been with the company since it started, will ankle July 1.

Endemol is left with Joaquin Agut, the new Telefonica-appointed mystery man who has yet to give an interview to the Dutch press, although he’s been in the country for four months. His plans for Endemol — which analysts believe includes selling off — are obscure at best: Telefonica has yet to announce a strategy or direction for the company.

“Endemol is by no means in trouble, but the lack of clarity cannot go on,” says Notermans, who will likely continue to work in some capacity for de Mol. “People are uncertain, and when they are uncertain, they look around for opportunities. Endemol’s strategy, indeed its future, must be clarified soon.”

De Mol has said Endemol will have its best year yet in terms of revenue and profits, but analysts are worried that it could be headed for a creative meltdown without him.

“They have a major problem,” says one observer who worked with de Mol for many years. “With John leaving, the spirit of the company will be leaving as well. There could be someone who pops up to take the creative lead, but I don’t know anyone at Endemol who could do it.”

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