Simon Cowell: King of the talent show is monetizing his empire

It’s been two years, but the most feared judge of English-language talentshows has a unique deal in place. Together with the investment company ACF, hehas turned the rights of his television company Syco into an investmentproduct, thus suddenly securing £90 million, without losing his grip on themultinational.

It’s another step in which Cowell, who turns 63 next week, is slowly butsurely pulling out of the music and television industry. The success of someof his major talent show formulas wears off.

The essence

  • Simon Cowell has sold some of the rights to his key TV concepts. * As a result, the rights of, among others, ‘Got Talent’ and ‘X Factor’ ended up with the investment company ACF. * Cowell is not only the creator of modern television talent shows, but also a feared judge.

But for the past twenty years, Cowell has ruled the return of the televisiontalent show. That started in 2001, when he developed the TV concept for the’Pop Idol’ singing competition together with Simon Fuller, in which he was theabsolute trendsetter as a strict jury member.

Big Brother

‘I don’t want to be rude, but…’ is a dreaded opening statement by jury memberCowell, after which a damning verdict was usually passed. The phraseconveniently became the title of Cowell’s 2004 autobiography. Partly due toCowell’s unvarnished criticism, the program became an instant success. Itcould easily compete with the then ubiquitous versions of ‘Big Brother’, bythe Dutch production house Endemol.

‘Pop Idol’ turned out to be an excellent export product: it is still runningin 69 countries. In our country, VTM broadcast it under the name ‘Idol’. But’Pop Idol’ was less than three years old when Cowell launched an improvedversion of the program with ‘X Factor’, where the judges compete for the bestcandidates. There was no longer any internal competition for Cowell: he nolonger had to share the proceeds with Simon Fuller.

70 million


Cowell’s boy band One Direction sold more than 70 million albums in just overfive years.

‘X Factor’ led to one of Cowell’s greatest inventions: the boy band OneDirection. The five members took part in the program independently in 2010,but they were not assessed well enough individually. Cowell saw potential inthe combination of the five boys and forged the group. In the six years thatthe group existed, they sold 70 million albums.

strangulation contracts

The television talent shows were an immense financial success. First of all,through the income from the sale of the rights around the world. Butparticipants also immediately had to relinquish all conceivable rights totheir music and performances to the program producer. Winners were obliged tohave their music and performances go through Cowell’s record company:strangulation contracts according to critics.

For ‘X Factor’, Cowell entered into a joint venture with the music arm ofglobal music giant Sony. The combination of the television success of thetalent shows and the subsequent sale of the winners’ music, digital orotherwise, was a golden egg. Since 2004, Syco, as the joint venture betweenCowell and Sony is called, has scored 500 top 10 hits worldwide and sold morethan 250 million records.

divine status

Cowell really achieved divine status in the television world when he was ableto re-imagine the talent show formula from 2007 with the ‘Got Talent’ formula,preceded by the name of the country where the series was broadcast.

The biggest difference with ‘Pop Idol’ and ‘X Factor’ was that not onlysingers could participate, but all kinds of performing artists couldparticipate. Once again it became a worldwide hit. Here too, VTM bought theFlemish rights for ‘Belgium’s Got Talent’. Time magazine twice included Cowellin its list of the 100 most influential people on Earth.

Two years ago, Sony Music left Syco and acquired the music rights to theprograms. The television rights remained with Syco, which was henceforth fullycontrolled by Cowell. He said on Tuesday that he wants to focus more on hisfamily from now on. He will, however, remain active as a jury member. His networth is estimated at 400 million pounds (460 million euros).