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

Record owner, TV producer and cassant jury member makes an investment product from his media group and thus cashes 90 million pounds (103 million euros).

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

It’s another step in which Cowell, who turns 63 next week, is slowly but surely pulling out of the music and television industry. The success of some of 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 television talent 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 the absolute trendsetter as a strict jury member.

Big Brother

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

‘Pop Idol’ turned out to be an excellent export product: it is still running in 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 improved version of the program with ‘X Factor’, where the judges compete for the best candidates. There was no longer any internal competition for Cowell: he no longer had to share the proceeds with Simon Fuller.

70 million


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

‘X Factor’ led to one of Cowell’s greatest inventions: the boy band One Direction. The five members took part in the program independently in 2010, but they were not assessed well enough individually. Cowell saw potential in the combination of the five boys and forged the group. In the six years that the 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. But participants also immediately had to relinquish all conceivable rights to their music and performances to the program producer. Winners were obliged to have 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 of global music giant Sony. The combination of the television success of the talent shows and the subsequent sale of the winners’ music, digital or otherwise, was a golden egg. Since 2004, Syco, as the joint venture between Cowell and Sony is called, has scored 500 top 10 hits worldwide and sold more than 250 million records.

divine status

Cowell really achieved divine status in the television world when he was able to 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 only singers could participate, but all kinds of performing artists could participate. Once again it became a worldwide hit. Here too, VTM bought the Flemish rights for ‘Belgium’s Got Talent’. Time magazine twice included Cowell in its list of the 100 most influential people on Earth.

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

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