Dutch reality TV king returns with 'Utopia'

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The creator of "Big Brother" John De Mol launched his new show "Utopia" in the Netherlands on Monday, seeking to reverse the fortunes of his SBS channels amid a spat with co-owner Sanoma.

The king of reality television described his new show as a "social experiment", in which 15 participants are cut off from the outside world for a year and largely left to their own devices "to build a new society".

They are given a shed, two cows, chickens, some personal possessions and land to cultivate before being mostly left alone -- apart from being watched by around 100 cameras recording their every move, according to De Mol.

But unlike "Big Brother", where producers played a major role in steering events, in "Utopia", "we... have no say," he told the centre-left daily Volkskrant in an interview.

"It's a social experiment in which we basically just record," said De Mol.

The Volkskrant said that despite the new concept, the ingredients remain essentially the same as previous reality shows: a group of people cut off from the rest of the world, being followed by many cameras and with contestants being eliminated.

"If the group in a short space of time creates a harmonious, well-functioning society, it may well flop. But if there is chaos, fights and drama... it will be jackpot for De Mol," the paper said.

"Utopia" airs five evenings a week on one of SBS's three channels and 24 hours-a-day on the Internet.

The show's launch comes amid a simmering row between Talpa, De Mol's media company which owns 33 percent of SBS, and Finnish media giant Sanoma, which owns the rest, over disappointing viewer ratings.

"I think everyone will agree that SBS' ratings could be better," Talpa's spokesman Thomas Notermans told AFP.

SBS' channels -- SBS6, Veronica, and Net5 -- have 15-20 percent of the Dutch television market.

De Mol irked Sanoma in an interview last month by telling Dutch media that SBS was "heading for failure" and that Sanoma refused to properly invest in the channels.

He then offered to buy-out Sanoma's shares in SBS for 373 million euros ($509 million), Dutch media reported.

Sanoma in return refuted De Mol's allegation, saying it wanted to buy Talpa's shares in SBS.

De Mol has a net worth of $2.2 billion, according to US magazine Forbes.

© 2014 AFP

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