John de Mol: Talpa Time

John de Mol is probably the best-known TV executive in the world. The creator of Big Brother, he built Endemol into a Euro5.5 billion company before selling it and then becoming part of the consortium that bought it back for Euro2.6 billion. He is now masterminding the international roll out of Talpa. Having

established the company in 2005, he has inked a raft of joint-venture deals in recent months and is about to announce more.

You announced that Talpa would move into a raft of international markets at MIPCOM last year. Why choose then to start the international roll out – had you been waiting to build the catalogue of formats to a certain size?

No, we have had enough formats for some time. We could have done it two years ago, but we switched strategy. In the beginning were copying the Endemol strategy whereby we wanted to acquire companies or create start-ups. The problem was we couldn’t find the right companies or the right people.

But that disadvantage turned into an advantage because we changed the business model and started to look for parties that we could form 50-50 JVs with and who would represent all of Talpa’s formats.

So Talpa’s expansion is taking a different path to that of Endemol in the early days?

Yes. At Endemol it was about acquiring companies, but it isn’t necessary to do that, which is why we are following the track of JVs.

Using the acquisition model you wouldn’t consider takeovers in some smaller markets because they are just too small, but with JVs that doesn’t matter. With the JV model there’s also no due diligence etc and we can do them quite quickly.

How can you differentiate yourself against the larger companies operating in the same space?

At the end of the game it’s still about content and I have one big advantage as I have a quite unique creative unit – there are 20 people always working on new ideas and new formats. You could compare building that team to building a football team, you need the right blend of experience and characters.

Until four or five months ago we had no international operation, but still had a show on ABC and many shows sold internationally.

What’s different about your development unit?

Most production companies are primarily producers and when they are not doing that they come up with new ideas. We do it the other way around, we create formats first.

What we’re going for are the big hits, not the middle- ranking formats.

You launched a website,, to allow members of the public to submit format ideas, did it turn up anything good?

Yes and no. Word of what we were doing spread so fast that we had over 20,000 responses. I went on holiday to my house in Portugal and had two trunks full of ideas, but I have to admit that 99.999% of them were no good. So, we’re relaunching the site, but being more discerning about who can submit an idea.

You mentioned that you want to set up in the UK, what’s your reading of that market?

Look at how many really independent producers there are in the UK and you’ll see that it’s not that big a number as most are part of a bigger group.

I want to find companies that are not too big and not too small. And it shouldn’t be a company connected to a larger group.

Through your investment arm Cyrte, you own a piece of RDF in the UK. Could it be part of your plans for expansion into the UK?

It could be, but RDF has a strong way of developing its own formats.

What do you envisage happening to Cyrte’s stake in RDF and how do the activities of Cyrte dovetail with those of Talpa?

There have been some developments around RDF – it could still go in different ways.

Cyrte is an investment company that is investing in telcos and media as well as TV. It’s run purely on investment terms. It’s totally separate to Talpa but there could be some practical crossovers.

Will Talpa expand beyond entertainment formats into other genres?

In entertainment we do the whole spectrum. We have just started our fiction department in Holland and that has two or three series on here. We have sold Viper’s Nest, a drama that stars my sister [Linda de Mol], to Germany, France and Belgium and in Russia they are making a local version.

Can you build Talpa to the size of Endemol or one of the other huge formats companies?

When we started Endemol we didn’t have the goal of being the biggest, we wanted to be the best.

Did the recession have any impact on plans to expand Talpa?

It had a very positive effect. It’s easier to start a new company than have an established company because we were growing and the others weren’t.

How different is the TV business now compared with when you were starting Endemol?

There’s currently a demand for more affordable shows. If you look globally you see a slight decrease in production budgets each year.

Where will Talpa be a year from now?

There will be substantial growth this year and next. Look at what we’ve done without a substantial organisation. At Endemol we had a group of 25 people just to look after the international companies.

I’m banging my head against the wall because I didn’t think of this JV model earlier. I think we will grow 300-400% this year.

What’s the long term plan for Talpa – might there be a sale or merger or IPO at some point?

I will not and cannot exclude any option, but there are no current plans to sell or join with another company. The only goal, currently, is to build Talpa and build the catalogue. An IPO is not very likely – looking back I didn’t like the period when Endemol was IPO’d.

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