It’s official: Leon Black’s Apollo Global Management owns CKX, the company that billionaire Robert F. X. Sillerman created to capitalize on TV hits including American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance, and the licensing rights to Elvis Presley and Muhammad Ali. The final price came to about $510 million or $5.50 a share. In CKX’s heyday, in May 2005, the stock sold for close to $30. Apollo will have its hands full: CKX must negotiate a new Idol deal with Fox, and develop plans to fix up Graceland, Presley’s former home that’s now a tourist attraction. Sillerman, who amassed his fortune trading radio stations and concert venues, now is building Function (x), an investment firm that plans to focus on media and entertainment ventures with special attention to digital and mobile technologies.
The results are in and CKX — the company that owns the rights to American Idol — is leaving: It said this morning that it has agreed to sell itself to privately held asset manager Apollo Global Management for $5.50 a share, which suggests that CKX is worth $512 million. Apollo Senior Partner Aaron Stone said that CKX, which also owns the licensing rights for Elvis Presley and Muhammad Ali, offers “a strong foundation on which to build an exciting future.” Apollo is run by prominent financier Leon Black, who also sits on the board of Sirius XM Satellite Radio. But the deal brings to an end one-time radio and concert mogul Robert F.X. Sillerman’s dream of creating an entertainment power built on the licensing rights of the baby boom’s cultural icons. At one point he even hoped to land rights to The Beatles. CKX caught everyone’s attention in 2005 when Sillerman bought Idol creator Simon Fuller’s 19 Entertainment. CKX also owns the firm that manages Woody Allen, Robin Williams and Billy Crystal. Sillerman had to be taken seriously: A pal of Mel Brooks and co-investor in his Broadway production of The Producers, Sillerman became a billionaire in the 1990s after collecting and selling the network of concert venues that now forms the core of Live Nation. But Sillerman’s plans for CKX fell apart after he invested in Las Vegas property with the idea of creating an Elvis Presley-themed casino, just before the real estate market collapsed.
American Idol host Ryan Seacrest’s fat contract with CKX — the quirky company that owns the rights to the show — seems to have done a number on Idol’s profits. Despite all the upbeat talk about Idol’s ratings resurgence so far this year, the show’s 1Q operating profit for CKX of $13.6 million was down 17% vs. the same period last year on revenues of $28.4 million, down 2%. Publicly traded CKX breaks out results for Idol because it accounts for about 53% of the company’s revenues, which also include licensing income for Elvis Presley and Muhammad Ali. The report is as good a barometer as you’ll find for Idol‘s economic performance: CKX collects a license fee from Fox, as well as revenue for Idol-related syndication, sponsorship deals, merchandise and its concert tours. But CKX’s 48% operating profit margin for Idol in the three months that ended in March was the lowest 1Q result for the show since 2006, when CKX began reporting the show’s finances. CKX says that its Idol-related expenses came to $14.8 million. That’s up 17% from last year — and 260% from two years ago. The biggest change appears to be the $45 million employment contract that CKX struck with Seacrest in 2009 that locks him in through 2012. CKX has already paid Seacrest $33.5 million; Fox, in turn, pays CKX $5 million a year for Seacrest.
UPDATE, 3:15 PM: Add NewsCorp COO Chase Carey to the list of executives of studio owners who characterize Premium VOD as merely a test that shouldn’t hurt theater owners. In a quarterly earnings conference call with analysts and reporters, Carey said that Fox and other studios are beginning to offer 8-week-old movies to cable and satellite VOD because they had little choice: Services such as Netflix and Redbox are renting DVDs for as little as $1 a night ”and that doesn’t work,” Carey says. “We have to build appropriate values and windows into our business.” Fox is “in the very early stages (of the P-VOD trials) with one small film.” He doesn’t want it to affect exhibition chains because they “set the pace for the film industry.” Still, he hedged when asked whether Fox would let exhibition companies see how well P-VOD movies perform — something that the National Association of Theater Owners says it wants. Carey says he “doesn’t know what request has been made,” although he adds that it’s “important for everyone to understand what’s going on.”
Q&A With Simon Cowell About U.S. Version Of ‘The X Factor’ For Fall 2011: “Zero Rules. Anybody Can Enter, Anybody Can Compete”
EXCLUSIVE: Simon Cowell tells me that Fox has promised it will spend the same amount on the U.S. version of his The X Factor talent contest that the UK programme costs to produce – $2.4 million. Next year, Fox will broadcast it and American Idol in 2011 with Idol running from January to May, and The X Factor airing from September to December. Idol has been the biggest programme on American TV for the past 8 years, and is understood to contribute $200M-$300M to Fox network profits every year. So Cowell, 51, is feeling the pressure of matching that success. Meanwhile, the 7th UK cycle of his X Factor is costing ITV £50 million to make — but earns £72 million in revenue through a mixture of advertising (£50 million), sponsorship (£10 million), phone-line revenue (£5 million), the live tour (£5 million) and merchandise (£2 million). It is estimated that Simon Cowell’s production company Syco, co-producer Talkback Thames, and broadcaster ITV split the £22 million profits between them.
With a personal fortune estimated at £165 million, Cowell just signed his next £100 million 3-year deal to keep Got Talent and X Factor on UK TV. And I’ve learned that Cowell’s Syco also is developing a game show with links to the UK national lottery; the idea is to produce scratch cards that will let viewers join in at home for big cash prizes. Right now, it’s difficult to overemphasise how important The X Factor has become in the UK national consciousness because of he incessant chatter on radio, TV, and Fleet Street. I caught up with Cowell while he was preparing for Saturday night’s 2 1/2-hour show which peaked at 13.2 million viewers with a 51% audience share:
Deadline London: What changes are you going to make to the U.S. X Factor so that it’s different to the show we see over here?
Cowell: I said to everybody the other day, with the American show, just think blank sheet of paper. Don’t make any promises, don’t make any predictions. Go in with a blank sheet of paper right now. I can feel a change in the air. While everybody’s going left, we’re going to be going right.
DL: What do you mean, there’s a change in the air?
Cowell: Look, I’m not going to tell people in advance what we’re doing. When you’re making a reality show, you can’t even plan a week ahead now. So we’re hopefully going to be in sync with what’s happening in the States at the time. I like to try and make as many decisions as late as possible. What I will say is that it will be like nothing else you’ve seen before on American TV, I guarantee you that. There are a lot of surprises in store, there’s going to be a lot of surprises. But I’m going for it.
DL: How would you describe what the new show’s going to be like for U.S. viewers used to American Idol?
Cowell: Zero rules. Because I can’t bear rules. For instance, I’ve never liked the idea you have to be a certain age to be a pop star. I like the idea that anybody can enter, anybody can compete. And obviously the fact that groups can compete as well as individuals. They haven’t had that on American TV before. I thought long and hard about whether to bring the show over to America or not. The show’s done so well all over the world, and I think to myself ‘Is this room for one more show?’ What’s never happened in America before is a big talent show that runs up to Christmastime. The US show will run from September to December next year. We’re putting a lot of resources behind it. But the main thing is that we’re going to America because there’s a lot of talent in America and there’s a lot of people over the age of 30 who want to get to these shows as well. It should be a 14-year-old competing against a 50-year-old competing against the next ‘N Sync. That to me is an interesting show because it’s got a variety of contestants. And we are going to scour the whole country to make sure that the whole of America is aware of the show and is given the chance to audition in as many different places as possible.
The CKX board has taken evasive action to repel a mystery bid. It has approved a measure to protect shareholders from “potentially coercive takeover tactics” after an unnamed third party served notice of a potential bid. CKX won’t say who the mystery bidder is.
The third party indicated it was in talks with founder Robert Sillerman, who has made his own plays for the company. Sillerman resigned as chairman and CEO in May partly to pursue his own bid for the company. CKX said Sillerman is not expected to throw in his lot with this new buyer. But his 21% shareholding, if combined with those sought by the third party, would create the majority stake.
It’s the latest twist in CKX’s courtship by would-be buyers. American Idol creator Simon Fuller made a $600 million bid last month. Fuller and former Barclay Capital banker Roger Jenkins have amassed a $1 billion war chest to fund their CKX buyout. Fuller’s offer trumped a previous $550-560 million offer in March from One Equity Partners, the JP Morgan private equity arm. One Equity Partners had been working with Sillerman and media investor Allen Shapiro.