Friday, June 29, 2007

John de Mol kills off his Dutch TV station Tien (1)

It was bound to come: the end of the Dutch TV station Tien, formerly known as Talpa. It had taken some time to negotiate a proper transfer of the assets of the station: programs, stars and rights. Last Tuesday the announcement could finally be made and the owner, the Dutch TV entrepreneur John de Mol, did it himself. For the second time he had to close a TV station.

After two years the TV station has failed to make a lasting impression on the Dutch television market. Most of the programs, stars and the rights to the premiere soccer league will be transferred to RTL Netherlands, a subsidiary of the RTL empire. John de Mol will receive a 26,3 percent of shares in RTL Netherlands in return.

Why did it fail? In an interview with the Dutch daily financial FD, John de Mol speculated that it was an imago problem, partly with himself and partly with the station. He is seen as an arrogant guy in the market (while he is a figure in the background), while the station was star studded. And the Dutch do not like arrogant people and are not easily impressed by stars. There was an imago problem, which is true, but this is not the whole truth. For a starting TV station, it is most important that you are found. And apparently a lot of people could not. Did the public broadcast company easily gather 2 million viewers on a Sunday night for soccer broadcasts, Tien only picked up half. Of course another reason is the hostile politics between public and commercial TV companies, fed by protective legislation and politics (this while the airwaves are no longer a scarcity, but have become a commodity).

But being a shrewd entrepreneur John de Mol negotiated his way out. He was in talks with SBS, but with no result. I suspect that the company was unable to formulate a real offer as the holding company was in the process of being taken over by Premiere. New masters, new policies and this was limbo. But the deal John de Mol made with RTL Netherlands is probably better that continuing his own station. He will be able to transfer the soccer rights; combined with the rights to international soccer games of RTL Netherlands, the station is now the soccer station and the viewing audience will increase to old proportions. Programs like the Golden Cage will be broadcast on RTL channel 4. RTL Netherlands will get star presenters like the sister of John de Mol, Linda de Mol. But RTL Netherlands will make a jump in the viewing statistics and become a real threat to the fragmented public broadcast companies.

Of course some stars will see their contracts suddenly terminated as will back-office staff people. But John the Mol might look a hard-nosed entrepreneur, he is loyal to his stars and staff; in fact he promised the staff who started with him two years ago a full year’s pay, despite his belief that 90 percent of them will have found a job in a few months.

It is the second time that John de Mol has to close a TV station. In 1996 he announced the start of a sports station, named Sport7. The station was to broadcast sports events and should have become a pay-channel. Again it was star studded. And again John de Mol had to close it, even before it really came on stream. The second time around, however, he broadcasted programs for two years. In fact, he did more. He became a real cross-media producer, who, for example, gathered a community around the program The Golden Cage. The program was daily on TV for half an hour, including commercials and 24/7 on internet on the basis of a subscription.

John de Mol now will throw himself into the production company Endemol with the knowledge that he will produce guaranteed programs for RTL Netherlands. And in the meantime he will invest in new ventures.

Blog Posting Number 798

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