Blunt but Popular Simon Cowell Will Bow Out of ‘American Idol’

January 12, 2010 by USA Post 

Blunt but Popular Simon Cowell Will Bow Out of ‘American Idol’,Simon Cowell, the brusque personality who has been behind TV blockbusters on several continents, plans to leave the Fox network’s singing competition “American Idol” after the current season, leaving a question mark over the biggest hit on American airwaves.

The 50-year-old Mr. Cowell said he was “offered a lot of money” to remain a judge on “American Idol,” which has been a mega-hit for the Fox network. But Mr. Cowell, who parlayed music-producing acumen into television celebrity, said he had decided to leave because “The X Factor,” another singing competition that has taken off in Britain, is set to debut—also on Fox—in 2011.

Mr. Cowell will serve as executive producer and judge on the U.S. version of “The X Factor,” the network said. Mr. Cowell hasn’t been an executive producer for “Idol” and the additional title suggested he may reap bigger financial gains with “The X Factor” if the show is a hit in the U.S., as it has been in other parts of the world.

Based on the British series “Pop Idol,” “American Idol” launched on Fox in 2002 and has become the most popular series on television.

“Idol” made Mr. Cowell a household name on both sides of the Atlantic and became a linchpin of Fox’s television lineup. But after eight seasons on air, ratings were down 7.8% for the last season, compared with the previous year.

Speaking to reporters during a Fox media event in Pasadena, Calif., network executives said they expect “American Idol” to continue for many years.

Mr. Cowell’s exit comes as speculation also swirls about Fox’s late-night plans. Conan O’Brien, the host of NBC’s “Tonight Show,” has considered leaving the General Electric Co. network over plans to move his show a half hour later to make room for “The Jay Leno Show” at 11:35 p.m. weeknights. While Fox executives played down the likelihood of Mr. O’Brien landing at the network, Fox has had informal talks with Mr. O’Brien’s circle about hosting a late-night show, Kevin Reilly, president of entertainment for Fox, confirmed Monday. “I love Conan personally and professionally, but right now he’s got a decision to make about his future,” Mr. Reilly said.

“American Idol” has been one of network TV’s biggest cash cows largely because of its allure to young viewers advertisers pay a premium to reach. The program commands some of the highest ad rates in broadcast television, with the price of 30 seconds of ad time on the program reaching $707,000 in 2009, according to TNS Media Intelligence, an ad-tracking unit of WPP PLC.

“American Idol” generated about $843.3 million in advertising in 2009, according to TNS, down from $883.7 million in 2008 when ad prices reached $737,000 for a 30-second slot. The Fox network generated $2.8 billion in gross advertising revenue last year, according to SNL Kagan.

Fox and The Wall Street Journal’s publisher, Dow Jones & Co., are owned by News Corp.

Fox didn’t name a replacement for Mr. Cowell. Although his planned departure is months away, it is sure to cast a shadow over the show. While people tune in to watch its amateur singers—both good and bad—Mr. Cowell’s verbal dressing-downs of contestants have been an important element.

“Mr. Cowell is divisive and entertaining and that was a big draw for this program,” said Bob Bernstein, a media director at Interpublic Group of Cos.’ DraftFCB. “I think his departure will hurt ratings and advertising because he is a big part of why that show is successful.”

Peter Rice, chairman of entertainment at Fox Broadcasting Co. said that Mr. Cowell is “irreplaceable,” but added: “People love the format [of "Idol"] and we have come up with a way to keep that energy and the show going.”

“American Idol” has been the most-watched series on television for five consecutive seasons. Last year, the show hit its lowest full-season average since 2004, with 25 million viewers, according to Nielsen Co., though viewership for broadcast television has been falling in general. Costs also are rising for “American Idol” due to pricey new contracts with participants such as host Ryan Seacrest.

Fox and News Corp. executives have quietly expressed concerns about the softening ratings for “American Idol,” and they have hoped tweaks to the show’s format will help reignite viewership, according to people familiar with the matter.

A Fox spokeswoman said “American Idol” remains the most-watched show by a huge margin.

“American Idol” already has shaken up its roster of judges. The ninth season of “American Idol,” which makes its debut on Tuesday, will be the first without Paula Abdul, who left after a salary dispute. Talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres will make her debut on the panel of judges this season.

When “The X Factor” launches in the fall of next year, Fox will be home to two singing competitions, albeit airing at different times of year. Mr. Cowell said “The X Factor,” unlike “American Idol,” won’t have age limits and will make judges more active in developing the contestants’ talent through choreography and in choosing musical scores.

Fox’s Mr. Reilly said the ratings lead of “American Idol” over other series means there’s some “wiggle room” if “American Idol” loses viewers.

The show also has helped elevate product placement to new heights with its sponsorship agreements with companies such as Coca-Cola Co. and Ford Motor Co. The companies not only buy ad time on the show, but also pay to have their products embedded into the actual broadcast. For example, the judges often have Coke cups on their table during the show and the contestants often perform in videos centered around Ford vehicles.

Separately, News Corp.’s Fox News Channel said Monday it will add Sarah Palin, the former Republican vice presidential candidate and governor of Alaska, as an on-air contributor. Ms. Palin will provide politicalanlysis and commentary for Fox News, Fox Business Network and special-event political programming.

Fox News described the deal with Ms. Palin as “multiyear,” but otherwise didn’t disclose terms.

A representative of Ms. Palin didn’t return emails seeking comment. The office of Ms. Palin’s attorney, Bob Barnett, referred questions to a Fox News spokeswoman

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