John de Mol is the Dutch founder of Endemol. Endemol is the biggest independent producer of TV programs in the world.
John invented shows like Big Brother, Fear Factor, The Voice, Money Drop, and many others.
He’s still active in the industry despite becoming a billionaire in 2000, at 45 years old.
His net worth amounts to $2 billion currently.
In accordance with the cultural cliché, John does not spend a dime on himself. The only luxury he is known for is his private jet, hence the nickname “Flying Dutchman”.
Read on to find out how he made it.
John de Mol was born in 1955 in The Hague, the Netherlands. He was the son of a jazz singer and the third John of his generation (his son is called Johnny).
John dreamed to become a football player in high school and trained at the Ajax Amsterdam.
Unfortunately, talent lacked.
When John’s father became director of Radio Nordzee in 1970, he offered his son a student job as a radio technician. John was 16 and loved it.
His passion for football slowly faded and never returned.
When he got out of high school, John worked as a full-time radio technician, then wrote football match summaries for Studio Sport.
He also gained experience as a production assistant for the state channel TROS and worked on Miss Holland, the Netherlands’ beauty pageant.
TROS liked him.
He was good enough that they hired him as a freelance producer and at 23, he was already producing his own shows.
One year later, John left TROS to create his own production company called John de Mol Produkties.
He developed various TV shows and games for both private and state TVs.
It was hard. All of them failed.
The company lost money each of the first seven years and almost went bankrupt after two years. It only survived because Sky was investing in it.
But John was persistent. His first hit came with Medisch Centrum West in 1988, a drama series taking place in a hospital.
The series holds the record of the highest viewership ever for a series in the Netherlands.
Two years later, John came up with Love Letters, a reality TV show about couples getting married.
John’s sister hosted the show. Her refreshing presence drove audiences up and she became one of the most famous hosts in the Netherlands.
Love Letters was so successful that it was sold in Germany.
Four years later, John merged John de Mol Produkties with Joop van den Ende Productions, another successful Dutch production company.
The result was Endemol.
One of their first ventures was the channel Sport7, a sports channel.
It was a disaster.
Sport7 lost million and made history as the biggest fiasco in the Dutch media industry.
The same year, John began working on a reality TV concept called “Big Brother” after a colleague told him about a US scientific experiment entitled Biosphere 2.
Biosphere 2 was an experiment designed to see if a group of people could survive solely from the oxygen and food generated by plants.
Slowly but surely, the idea to put a bunch of people in a house and watch them live made its way into John’s mind.
There was just one problem. Nobody, neither his partner Joop nor his sister Linda, were convinced about the idea.
At the time, reality TV didn’t really exist as it exists now. Advertisers didn’t know how they were going to advertise, and some even voiced concerns for the health of the show’s participants.
But John was stubborn. He knew he could succeed. His doubts weren’t about the show itself, but about the technical dimension of it.
There were 120 cameras on set filming content that had to be edited later on. It would be a lot of work.
He eventually managed to convince everyone and the show debuted on Dutch TV in 1999.
While the initial reactions were negative, Big Brother became an enormous success after a few weeks.
The concept was exported worldwide and installed John as the Pope of TV.
In 2000, John and Joop sold Endemol to Telefonica for €5.5 billion. John made €1.3 billion on the deal but decided to stay on as a creative director.
He subsequently created Fear Factor, 1 VS 100, Deal or no Deal, Money Drop, Wipeout, Dancing with the stars, and more.
In 2004, he left Endemol due to creative differences with Telefonica (Telefonica IPOed 25% of Endemol’s shares in 2005).
Now that he was free, John could focus. Despite being a billionaire, he still wanted to have his own TV channel.
He created a new production company called Talpa Media and went back to his home market to open a channel called Tien. It was August 2005.
The channel struggled despite broadcasting the football cup and other successful programs.
Looking back, John believed that money was why viewers weren’t tuning in.
Before launching Talpa, John had bought the most successful programs, hosts, and journalists for twice the price and put them on his channel, hoping to attract audiences.
The practice annoyed most viewers, so they boycotted Tien.
Tien struggled enough that John sold it to RTL Netherlands in 2007 against shares in RTL. RTL discontinued Tien a couple of weeks later and replaced it with RTL 8.
That same year, Johnbought back 75% of Endemol from Telefonicain a €2.8 billion deal with Mediaset (Silvio Berlusconi’s media empire) and other investors.
They acquired the rest of the shares later on and Endemol was delisted from the stock market.
The company wasn’t doing well because the shows were too expensive to produce.
In 2010, the company’s debt was $3 billion. In 2011, it was $4.1 billion.
Mediaset sold its Endemol shares in 2012 as Apollo Global Management sought to take the company over.
Fox Century 21’s Shine, Apollo Global Management’s Core Media, and Endemol eventually merged to create a mega TV production corporation called Endemol Shine Group, the current structure of the company.
It’s unclear whether John still owns any shares in Endemol at this stage.
In any way, Endemol’s sale didn’t restrain John whatsoever.
He wanted to win an Emmy, so he had to come up with new ideas.
In 2010, through his Talpa production company, John created The Voice.
It was a massive success.
He won several Emmy’s and the show was sold to 145 countries and regions (522 singers have since won the competition).
In 2011, he bought the Dutch companies of SBS broadcasting (a few channels and radio stations) and sold his RTL shares.
In 2015, John sold the part of Talpa media that owned The Voice to a British media group for $545 million cash.
He decided with the sale to never be worried about business matters again. Creation would become his only focus.
He then launched Talpa Creative, an idea crowdfunding initiative. He got 20 000 ideas for TV shows but none of them were good enough.
That’s when he realized how difficult it was to produce television.
In 2017, he moved into the news and bought a Dutch newspaper group. He later sold the shares to a Belgian media company against three radios that he incorporated into Talpa Media.
On this occasion, he restructured all of his assets and created Talpa Network.
One year later, he bought ANP, the Dutch press agency, then sold it in 2021.
Talpa Network owns today 5 TV channels, 5 radio stations, online platforms, and Youtube channels.
From what I understand, everyone hates John de Mol in the Netherlands.
They hate him so much that one journalist wrote a book about the de Mol family, calling John “unoriginal” and “power-obsessed”.
John has further been called the King of Trash TV, and Endemol, the “unscripted factory”.
When asked for comments regarding these, John said he didn’t care one bit.
All that matters to him is to have an impact on people. That’s where his focus is, and that’s why he is in the business.
In one of his interviews, John explained he fell in love with TV production when he heard people discussing a beauty pageant he worked on.
He found it fantastic to have an impact on people without them knowing he worked behind the scenes.
This idea has been at the core of his motivation since.
One thing I have learned about billionaires is that they have never been in there for the money.
They’re doing what they do because they are passionate.
If money had been John’s goal, he would have retired after becoming a billionaire in 2000 and we would have never heard of The Voice.
But instead of chilling in his jet, John went back to work and came up with new ideas.
His fascination comes from his belief that entertainment is a reflection of worldwide worries and problems.
Once he seized them, he makes a show about them.
Producing TV is not as creative as you may think.
John said that creativity is 20% of imagination and 80% of work.
“I have ideas everywhere and all the time”, he once declared. Ideas don’t matter so much. Work does.
Everything in TV is designed on purpose, down to the most insignificant detail.
Nothing is left to chance, everything is controlled.
TV production is a strange industry.
No one ever knows if a show is going to work or not.
John explained that there are sometimes bad ideas he and his team work on for four months then throw away because it doesn’t work.
TV production is hard.
He estimates he can predict 50% of success for a show, and that the rest is left to chance.
This explains why so many of them fail.
“Without failures, you can’t find success”, John once said.
It’s fair to say that the man got enough of both of them.
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