By Gilbert Kreijger and Greg Roumeliotis
AMSTERDAM/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Leon Black's Apollo Global Management LLC is to become one of the top shareholders in Endemol, the TV production house behind "Big Brother" and "Deal or No Deal," after it and a Dutch investment firm bought most of the debt from its lenders.
Black's private equity firm, which he likes to describe as a contrarian investor, and Cyrte Investments BV, an investment boutique based in Naarden in the Netherlands, will convert debt into equity in Endemol, collectively giving them majority ownership, a Cyrte spokesman said on Friday.
The spokesman would not disclose the size of the equity holdings. An Apollo spokeswoman and an Endemol spokesman declined to comment.
Reality TV show "Big Brother" aired in 87 countries in 2011 while Endemol game show "The Money Drop" was broadcast in more than 30 countries.
Mediaset, the Italian media firm controlled by Silvio Berlusconi, Goldman Sachs Capital Partners and Endemol co-founder John de Mol's Cyrte, now majority-owned by Dutch insurer Delta Lloyd NV, bought Amsterdam-based Endemol in 2007 for 3.4 billion euros ($4.51 billion) in a two-stage deal from Italy's Telefonica and public investors.
The buyers saddled the company with debt and, after a drop in earnings, Endemol failed to meet terms on the loans in 2011.
In January, lenders agreed to cut their roughly 2 billion euros of loans to 500 million euros in return for equity, a source close to the restructuring said at the time.
Most of the debt was sold by the other lenders to Apollo and Cyrte, making them Endemol's biggest shareholders, while Mediaset and Goldman Sachs' private equity arm will retain small equity holdings, the Cyrte spokesman said on Friday.
Representatives of Mediaset and Goldman Sachs Group Inc declined to comment.
The deal has echoes of another Dutch company restructuring that saw Apollo become a major shareholder through a distressed debt investment. Apollo's funds now own close to 30 percent of Chemical group LyondellBasell Industries NV after they invested $1.5 billion in the company's restructuring in 2010.
The market value of Apollo's stake has more than quadrupled since then. Apollo will be hoping that Endemol's debt-to-equity swap will also deliver big gains down the line.
Apollo also owns 17 percent of aluminum maker Aleris Corp as result of its debt investment in the company and its restructuring in 2010, when TPG Capital Group LP exited.
In proceeding with the restructuring, Endemol rejected a 1 billion-euro bid from U.S. media group Time Warner Inc, while shareholder Mediaset had presented its own plan for a joint bid with Italian fund Clessidra.
($1 = 0.7540 euros)
(Additional reporting by Danilo Masoni in Milan; editing by Matthew Lewis)