Endemol says reality will set in

Firm sees prospects for U.S. gains if strike drags on

U.S. network TV slots will open up to overseas producers in the event of an extended writers strike, Endemol CEO Aat Schouwenaar said Tuesday.

The Dutch company behind such global unscripted hits as "Deal or No Deal," "Fear Factor" and "Big Brother" said the U.S. will offer growth prospects that could positively affect Endemol's bottom line if the supply of drama and scripted domestic content begins to dry up.

"They are doing lots of reruns at the moment, but at a certain time they will finish. And if the strike goes on for several months, it will definitely have a positive effect on our 2008 numbers because they will need more episodes of '1 vs. 100' and 'Deal or No Deal,' " he said at the PricewaterhouseCoopers European Media Leaders conference here. "We have more opportunities now because the time slots are now going to be available."

Endemol — acquired this year from Spanish telecom Telefonica by a private-equity consortium led by Goldman Sachs, Mediaset and former owner John de Mol — also plans production acquisitions in the U.S. and U.K. markets to diversify from reality-based content into the scripted arena. It also said it is targeting emerging markets including China, Turkey, South Korea and Eastern Europe for scripted and unscripted programming.

"We are back in the market. We do have acquisition funds for Endemol, which we haven't had for a few years," Schouwenaar said. "We usually acquire minority stakes and increase our shareholding over the years and try and make the process good for us and good for our partners."

He added: "We are very risk-averse. We don't invest in loss-making assets, and they can't be dilutive, especially with our new shareholding, (so) they have to be a solid fit and have growth potential."

The Endemol CEO, who was brought back to the company by de Mol after quitting under Telefonica's management in 2004, downplayed de Mol's role in the company and its creative processes.

"He is not at all operationally involved in Endemol … and is just one of (de Mol-led financing vehicle) Cyrte's three shareholders," Schouwenaar said. "He hasn't even been in our offices since it was acquired."