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In a major shake-up, Marc Graboff is exiting Core Media Group — the reality TV company that owns American Idol — less than three years after he was brought in as its president and CEO.
Graboff, formerly a top NBC executive, won’t be replaced, but Cris Abrego and Charlie Corwin — who jointly run the much larger reality TV powerhouse Endemol North America — are now being given oversight of Core, effectively placing them in the mix as Idol navigates its way through a rocky ratings landscape.
(Core and Endemol are both controlled by Apollo Global Management, a New York equity fund that manages about $160 billion in assets.)
“It’s at the top of everyone’s attention,” Abrego says of Idol, adding that Core, Fremantle and Fox already have a whole team working on Fox’s highest rated show in an effort to once again make it a ratings leader and that he and Corwin will be “hands-on as needed.”
The two executives who are co-chairman and co-CEO’s of Endemol North America, bring considerable experience in reality TV. Abrego, a pioneer in the field, helped launch the sub-genre of “celeb-reality” when he produced such shows as The Surreal Life, Flavor of Love and LaLa Full Court Life. His company, 51 Minds, was sold to Endemol in a 2008 deal valued at $200 million.
Shortly before, Endemol also bought Corwin’s Original Media for a reported $50 million, bringing into its fold the creator of Miami Ink, Swamp People and The Rachel Zoe Project.
Since being promoted to run Endemol North America in September 2013, Abrego and Corwin have expanded scripted drama, digital channels and content, live-event TV and location-based entertainment, starting with a traveling version of ABC’s Wipeout (which will allow fans to try out the watery stunt course).
Their biggest investment has been a reported $40 million to launch Endemol. Beyond seven months ago, a group of 10 digital networks that the company says already attract 250 million views a month.
They are creating programming for Beyond drawn on known talent such as Drea De Matteo (The Sopranos) and burgeoning Internet stars, including beauty maven Michelle Phan and Brittany Furlan, known as Queen of Vine.
Endemol also has made an overall deal with singer Pitbull, who will host Pitbull’s New Year’s Revolution Live, live on Fox. They are also developing a TV series around him and content for Beyond.
The New Year’s Eve special is seen as the first in a series of live television event programs they plan to create.
Endemol is known for its reality shows including the CBS hit Big Brother, Fear Factor and ABC’s Extreme Markover: Home Edition. It also is producer of the successful syndicated Steve Harvey talk show, and in all has more than 30 shows currently on the air in the U.S.
Now Endemol is expanding into scripted shows as well. The have Hell on Wheels, a western, in its fourth cycle on AMC, and launch the event drama Kingdom in October on DirecTV.
More intriguing than any show, though, is the potential for real change within the reality TV world if Core and Endemol USA can strike a deal with that other leviathan, The Shine Group, founded by Rupert Murdoch’s daughter Elisabeth and sold to Fox in 2011 for about $500 million.
Sources confirm that discussions are ongoing between Apollo and Fox to combine Endemol, Core and Shine into a global reality TV powerhouse.
“We’re in this sort of consolidation crazy moment,” says Corwin, who believes bringing these companies together would give them “increased reach” and “depth of access,” allowing the acquisitions like Core to tap into Endemol’s global distribution operations, reaching every media platform from broadcast to digital worldwide.
Graboff’s exit marks a turnaround for the man who rose to be chairman of NBC Entertainment, before leaving in late 2011. He joined Core (then named CKX) a month later, overseeing such holdings a the Elvis Presley estate, Muhammad Ali’s naming rights, and shows including So You Think You Can Dance.
At the time of his appointment, it was speculated that Graboff was being groomed to lead an entertainment powerhouse Apollo was assembling and that had gathered steam earlier in 2011 when Apollo paid $510 million for CKX, which itself had acquired Simon Fuller’s 19 Entertainment for $210 million in 2005.
Apollo took control of Endemol in March, when it invested more than $750 million in the Dutch corporation. Endemol was then struggling under a huge debt-load, despite airing more than 15,000 hours of TV annually. It has 90 companies in 30 countries and is one of the top sellers in the world of formats such as Deal Or No Deal and Fear Factor.
“We will be making sure they can take advantage of the synergies Endemol has to offer,” adds Abrego, “in distribution, intellectual properties, different formats, and relationships with buyers.”
Now Abrego and Corwin, after a year running Endemol, will have to continue to expand Endemol and help pump up American Idol at a time the program landscape is changing rapidly.
They have Graboff’s endorsement. “Chris and Charlie are going to do a great job overseeing the Core brand,” he predicts, while declining to comment on his own next moves. He doesn’t plan to take another job immediately.
CORRECTION, Sept. 8, 12;40 pm – The name of Endemol North America and the spelling of Pitbull were corrected.
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