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De Mol’s block knocks rivals

Dutch 24/7 webs fear daily 5-hour slot will drain funds

AMSTERDAM — July is usually a sleepy month in Holland when most media execs are on extended vacation — but not this year.

Industryites are staying in town to keep an eye on the Aug. 13 bow of Talpa, Dutch media mogul John de Mol’s first broadcasting venture.

That his nightly 6-11 p.m. programming block, due to air on MTV subsid Nickelodeon, has caused such consternation is surprising.

But execs have reason to be wary in this fiercely competitive market in which nine general entertainment, six commercial and three state channels compete for market share and ad coin.

The billionaire behind the “Big Brother” phenom has been spending money like water, “looting,” as several media toppers have called it, the best local talent with pricey contracts and paying top dollar for sports and programming, both acquired and original.

“These programming investments are all based on sound economics,” says Talpa director of programming Remko van Westerloo.

He says Talpa’s business strategy depends on ad sales, but also “a significant portion of its revenues will come from other sources. We are building brand content that can be controlled over all platforms (cell phone and Internet) and that will be contributing.”

Hot shop NL Prods daily sitcom “Together,” which will go to mobile and probably the Internet, is a case in point.

Producer/ director Johan Nijenhuis is renowned in Holland for cranking out successful films and TV series, the latest being Nickelodeon’s “Zoop,” which has been pulling in 50% aud shares in the 7-14 year age group.

Talpa has promised it will deliver a 10% aud share to advertisers by year’s end — a forecast Universal Media TV planner Jasper van Doesselaar notes “is ambitious but can be done.”

Advertisers, he adds, “are very excited about this new venture, mainly because of John’s name and reputation.”

While competitors charge De Mol is leaning on one or two big sport deals to keep his promise, Van Westerloo notes that 80% of the programming is drama and sitcoms.

Among the lineup is a “Desperate Housewives”-style weekly drama, “Women From Het Gooi,” about women living in what is considered the Dutch Beverly Hills.

It stars De Mol’s celebrity sister, Linda. She will also star in a live entertainment show and host gameshows including “Deal or No Deal.”

Talpa has sparked its share of controversy. Reality show “Expedition Robinson” had been on SBS6 for five seasons, but Talpa ponied up enough to convince rights owner Castaway to move it. SBS claims the deal was illegal, but a judge didn’t agree. The program will air on Talpa, though SBS is appealing.

Van Westerloo’s father is Fons van Westerloo, CEO of rival RTL Netherlands and the former chief exec of SBS Holland. Latter agrees the Talpa programming lineup could pull off the 10% aud share.

“John bought himself into the market, almost tripled the prices of sports rights, and is paying big money for stars, so yes, he can come up with a decent market share,” says Fons van Westerloo.

For instance, Talpa plans to tie up Sundays by airing highlights of the Dutch premier soccer league plus a show hosted by Jack Spijkerman. His satirical show “Kopspijkers” on pubcaster Vara has brought in top ratings for the last decade, while premiere league highlights regularly drew a 50% aud share on pubcaster Channel 2.

To combat Talpa, RTL Netherlands will launch a new channel, RTL 7, from Luxembourg on Aug. 12. Van Westerloo says Talpa’s programming has been “stolen from the public broadcasters and wasn’t competing with us in any way.”

Not true when it comes to talent. Talpa has lured over RTL Netherlands hosts Beau van Ervan Dorens, Wilfred Genee and Winston Gerschtanowitz.

It’s also brought over close to two dozen SBS Broadcasting staffers, something SBS chief exec Markus Tellenbach admits “We’re clearly not amused at. They’ve hired a good management team, trained by SBS… but it’s given us a chance to bring in fresh blood.”

Tellenbach is skeptical Talpa can bring in the promised 10%.

“John is creating fireworks, delivering a surprise bag with blurred positioning that advertisers will find hard to deal with. What media planners need is consistent performance on a demographic profile.”

Adds Tellenbach, “I’m not losing any sleep over this.”

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