John de Mol: Sit back and watch the transformation of television

From the Worldview address given at the Edinburgh International Television Festival by the creator of the 'Big Brother'


The American comedian, Ernie Kovacs, said: "Television is a medium – so called because it is neither rare nor well done." I think he was right, because television certainly isn't rare. Ninety five per cent of homes across the European Union have at least one television set. Meanwhile, the number of channels available to us is multiplying.

I have three dishes in my garden, plus cable so I have access to hundreds of channels. Television isn't rare. But I believe it can be well done and actually is being well done... sometimes. This doesn't sound surprising from my mouth. But Europe has never had so many people producing world-beating media ideas.

New channels and new media mean new opportunities to capitalise on our talent. Endemol for example, of which I am chairman, is driven by our creative departments around the world. And I have recently set up my own corporate creative department at our headquarters in Holland, comparable with an advertising agency.

In simple terms, we are looking for those freaks whose kick it is to be the best and the first in the trends of format development; the weirdos whose aim is to produce the most-talked-about television in the world; the nerds who always think it can be done better, who work 80 hours per week. Okay, I may exaggerate a little, but not too much because you need total dedication to succeed.

I'm proud to say that already, their fertile imaginations have resulted in programmes that are hugely successful all over the world. I would like to point briefly to one recent success: Big Brother. We have learnt a lot from that show. Between 1999, when Big Brother was launched, and the end of this year we have produced 32 series in 17 countries and in each case by an Endemol company. Within a year, the number of countries will be almost 30.

What makes Big Brother a success? I think there are three crucial factors. The first is the compelling core idea. A gripping real-life "soap" that has caught the public imagination everywhere it's been aired.

On the other hand, Big Brother is the only show in the history of television to offer viewers access to all of its rushes through its live stream on pay TV and the Web. For the first time in television, nothing is hidden.

And this brings me to the second crucial factor – the way in which different media... different platforms, have been used. Big Brother is one idea exploited in a variety of media at the same time. And it exploits them all for what they do best. On terrestrial television there is a half hour programme every night, edited to create a dramatic storyline. On digital television and the Web, live footage is streamed. We have an audio package for radio stations and there's the telephone. Viewers call in and vote to evict housemates, ultimately deciding the programme's outcome.

The huge trade imbalance in TV entertainment between Europe and the United States is a fact, but if we learn the clear lessons of such formats as Big Brother and Millionaire we can make our industry a world-beater. The signs are already there.We are facing fantastic opportunities but it will require a lot of effort and determination to ensure that Europe has the best media economy in the world.

A major new hit is never simply a copy of a previous success. We have to innovate if we are going to continue entertaining audiences around the world. When a new idea is born, it seems mad and insane. But such an idea becomes conventional the moment it is a success.

In the 1930's, Darryl Zanuck, the head of Twentieth Century Fox, said of television: "People will get tired of staring at a plywood box every night." New ideas seem crazy at the time. If we adopt the right practices, attitudes and, most of all, the right mentality, I have no doubt that we will experience an unforgettable decade, a decade in which television all over the world will be transformed.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2014  

British economy: Government hails the latest GDP figures, but there is still room for skepticism over this 'glorious recovery'

Ben Chu
Comedy queen: Miranda Hart has said that she is excited about working on the new film  

There is no such thing as a middle-class laugh

David Lister
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little