Why the Dutch are Dominating TV

Chris Haston/NBC

NBC's "The Voice" is latest in a long line of hits from Holland to find success in the U.S.

How does a country half the size of Indiana manage to produce so much of what the world watches?

NBC's The Voice, the first credible threat to Fox's American Idol, is also the latest in a string of programming from the Netherlands, that tiny country (pop. 16.8 million) squashed between Germany and Belgium.

Dutch mogul John de Mol launched The Voice of Holland in the fall, and it quickly became the country's most successful talent show ever, dominating the local versions of Idol, The X Factor and Got Talent.

Whether the U.S. take on The Voice, for which de Mol has teamed with Survivor mastermind Mark Burnett, will be as successful remains to be seen. But the series, featuring pop stars Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Blake Shelton and Adam Levine, debuted April 26 to 12 million viewers and saw its audience grow 10 percent in Week 2.

There's no denying Holland's success rate. Starting with de Mol's Big Brother in 1999, the Netherlands has produced global successes including Deal or No Deal, Fear Factor and 1 vs. 100. ABC hopes it has the next Dutch treat with You Deserve It!, an altruistic game show from Deal creator Dick de Rijk that is expected to air next season.

"We design our shows to be export products because to be successful here, you have to cross borders," de Rijk says. "You drive a car for two hours, and you're speaking another language. We have a different mind-set."

That worldview helps explain why shows that work in Holland tend to work everywhere. De Mol says he uses the country's 15 million viewers as a mega-preview audience. If Dutch viewers go mad for a concept, chances are German, French and American audiences will, too.

"If a format succeeds in Holland, that's a seal of quality," says Jens Richter of German sales group SevenOne International, which is selling You Deserve It!

With less money to throw at big stars and lavish productions, Dutch shows live or die based on the creativity of their concepts.

"Dutch people have strong documentary backgrounds because that's the only way to make a living in the entertainment business," notes Bertram van Munster, the Dutch creator of CBS' The Amazing Race.

The track record of Dutch producers is such that de Rijk sold You Deserve It! directly to ABC without having to prove its appeal at home. Like Voice, it has already sold, or entered deal negotiations in most major international territories.