Tube giant Endemol merges two units

De Mol is again largest shareholder of Versatel

MADRID — Endemol will create Spain’s biggest TV production house by merging its fully owned subsids Gestmusic Endemol and Zeppelin.

The merger, which will create Endemol Espana, was confirmed by Endemol prexy Joaquim Agut. Endemol is owned by giant Spanish telco Telefonica.

Gestmusic originated talent show “Operacion Triunfo,” which spawned hit international reality format “Fame Academy.” It also produces talkshow “Cronicas Marcianas,” which has allowed commercial web Telecinco to dominate Spain’s late night timeslot for seven years.

The road to the merger was cleared last year when Zeppelin execs, and its original owners cousins Jose and Secundino Velasco, ankled the shingle. Their relations with Gestmusic toppers Josep Maria Mainat and Toni Cruz had often been tense.

Despite its size, some questions hang over the future of Endemol Espana. Having produced five seasons of “Big Brother,” Zeppelin inked a pioneering production deal last month with Telecinco to produce six reality shows for the net over two years.

Zeppelin’s latest reality skein, “La casa de tu vida,” a local version of “Make Yourself at Home,” posted solid ratings this spring, out-performing Telecinco’s channel share of 22.8%, with an average 23.3% share.

Yet in general, audiences for reality TV in Spain have tumbled far more than in the other big five territories in Europe.

While “Operacion Triunfo” notched up an average primetime share of 45.6% over the 2001/02 season, Spain’s most popular reality skein over 2003-04, “Big Brother VIP,” could only wrack up an average primetime share of 26.4%.

Also, Endemol’s contracts with Gestmusic founders and its creative driving force, Mainat and Cruz, lapse next year. Both are known to enjoy their creative freedom and, say pundits, could ankle to go indie once more.

Meanwhile, Endemol co-founder John de Mol, who ankled on May 1, has bumped up his shares in broadband network Versatel to 10.2%, making him once again the largest shareholder.

De Mol’s investment company Talpa Capital boosted its shares in Versatel, active in Germany and Benelux, in mid-May to 5.1% after reducing a 10.1% share in the telco in mid-March to 1.3%. The sharp cut took place about the same time De Mol boosted his shares in Fox Kids Europe (FKE) to 10.1%, becoming the kidnet’s second largest stakeholder.

De Mol will announce plans for a new company in August/September. He intends to launch a multi-platform project next year when his non-compete clause with Endemol-owner Telefonica runs out.

(Marlene Edmunds in Amsterdam contributed to this report).

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