‘American Idol’ strikes deal with Universal Music

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Simon Fuller, the creator of American Idol, has struck a deal with Universal Music Group to release albums recorded by stars of the TV show, which has topped the US ratings for most of the last decade.

The distribution deal between 19 Entertainment, which produces the programme, and Universal replaces a similar agreement between 19 and Sony Music.

Sony has close ties to Simon Cowell, the acid-tongued judge on the programme, who has left American Idol to produce a US version of The X-Factor. Sony, which owns Syco, Mr Cowell’s production company, has the right to release albums recorded by stars of The X-Factor in the UK and will take on a similar role in the US.

“With Idol celebrating our tenth season I wanted to inject some new power and weight behind our brand,” said Mr Fuller. “It is exciting to have the world’s biggest show partnered with the world’s biggest music company.”

“We like delivering hits and new artists,” said Lucian Grainge, co-chief executive of UMG. The label’s deal with American Idol was “the right combination at the right time”, he added.

American Idol faces a challenge when it returns to screens at the end of the year. Although it continues to be the most watched programme in the US, ratings for the most recent series were below last year’s levels. Mr Fuller must also find a replacement for Mr Cowell, whose sarcastic put-downs are arguably one of the show’s biggest draws.

Still, it has an enviable track record in developing new stars. In the nine years that American Idol has been on the air Sony has sold more than 100m CDs by the performers that have emerged on the show, such as Carrie Underwood and Chris Daughtry. The label has also sold more than 120m digital downloads.

However, recent American Idol winners have failed to emulate the success of previous stars on the programme. Sluggish ticket sales for a US tour featuring the performers who appeared on the most recent series resulted in several tour dates being scrapped.

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