Interview: John de Mol talks risk and reward

Last week, Dutch media giant John de Mol and his Talpa Network unveiled a concept that aims to help content producers get their formats onto the small screen in a ...
December 19, 2017

Last week, Dutch media giant John de Mol and his Talpa Network unveiled a concept that aims to help content producers get their formats onto the small screen in a more efficient way.

As part of “The Fastest Way to the Screen” initiative,  De Mol will give format creators the opportunity to launch their ideas straight to series in the Netherlands, using his infrastructure and knowledge to help promote the format and get the IP ready for global rollout, including worldwide production and distribution.

Launching an original idea on one of Talpa’s networks, he says, will save international creators time, money and risk.

Realscreen spoke with John de Mol about the initiative:

Why did you decide to create the “The Fastest Way to the Screen” initiative?

I think the business is changing. If you look at traditional free-to-air TV stations, they’re suffering because audiences are always looking at other platforms, so advertising money is shrinking. What television needs to survive is good content and good ideas. I know from experience that it’s really hard when you have an idea that you want to get on screen. It’s terrible. It’s hell. To create a good idea is already in of itself a difficult task, but then, especially in bigger countries, if you don’t have the right connections, it can be terrible to sell. Then at the end of the day, if you succeed, you lose 100% of your copyright.

What we want to do is with my experience, knowing how the business works, offer everyone with a good idea a shortcut. When they come to us, we have four TV networks in Holland, we have a very well-experienced production company and we are open to people with good ideas and good formats. If we believe in that format, we say, ‘Come to us, we’ll do it in Holland,’ and we’ll get that show on the air in six to eight months. We know from experience that when a show does well in Holland, it sells all over the world, so companies have a much better position in the market because it becomes a proven show.

You said recently that it “can take forever nowadays” for a producer to get an idea picked up straight to series. Why do you think that is?

It hasn’t changed that much in the 25 to 30 years I’ve been in the business, but it’s very difficult to get an idea picked up in the U.S., the leading television market where everybody dreams of getting a show, because program directors and network execs aren’t willing to take risks. It’s very hard to sell a format in the U.S., the UK, France and Germany – the big major markets. A small country like Holland is the ideal first step because then you can go to the networks and the broadcasters in the bigger countries, you can show them the footage, you can show them the ratings, and you show them the demographics. It makes access a lot easier now.

Are you, then, effectively taking on the risk and costs that this initiative will be saving U.S. broadcasters?

To a certain extent, we are. We’re looking for a format that we really think is a strong idea — fresh and creative — then we will do it immediately. We’ll produce the show here, put it on air and try to make it a success. But of course we want to split the formats rights.

Why was the Friendly Divorce format the best to launch this initiative?

In Holland, about 45% of all marriages end in divorce, so it’s a problem that a lot of people are dealing with… and I don’t think it’s much different in other countries. What I like about this is the series starts with the bad news, with two people breaking up, but ends in the good news, as relatives and friends come together to help everyone continue with their lives. It’s a combination of starting with a big problem, and ending with a feel-good story.

Do you think format creators are still being creative in the concepts they’re putting forward?

My philosophy in this business has always been that when I created Big Brother, I knew the next big thing would not be a second Big Brother. I believe the next big thing always comes from an unexpected corner. When I’ve pitched all my big hits, the first reaction from networks is a look that says, ‘Are you serious?’ I think the difference between network execs and content creators is that networks will say no to avoid risk, while creators try to get as many ‘yesses’ as they can get, and they’re open to risk. I believe that without taking risks, you’ll never ever find the next big thing.

What are your long-term goals for the “Fastest Way to Screen” initiative?

I hope to contribute a little bit to the industry with fresh and groundbreaking content. As long as you create good content, people will want to watch television, and I like to do my part to contribute to that.

About The Author
Barry Walsh is editor and content director for realscreen, and has served as editor of the publication since 2009. With a career in entertainment media that spans two decades, prior to realscreen, he held the associate editor post for now defunct sister publication Boards, which focused on the advertising and commercial production industries. Before Boards, he served as editor of Canadian Music Network, a weekly music industry trade, and as music editor for As content director, he also oversees the development of content for the brand's market-leading events, the Realscreen Summit and Realscreen West, as well as new content initiatives.