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.