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'Idol' creator Simon Fuller may seek a corporate role

Fuller, head of 19 Entertainment, the show's producer, is said to be eyeing the CEO's job at parent company CKX Inc.

January 12, 2010|By Joe Flint

Now that Simon Cowell has decided this will be his last season as a judge on Fox's "American Idol," the next drama for the show's creator, Simon Fuller, may be in a boardroom.

Fuller, chief executive of 19 Entertainment, which produces "American Idol" for Fox, is eyeballing the top job at 19 Entertainment's parent company, CKX Inc., according to people close to the situation.

CKX, headed by Robert F.X. Sillerman, also has a majority stake in Elvis Presley's Graceland mansion in Memphis, Tenn., and an 80% interest in licensing rights to the name and image of Muhammad Ali.

In an interview, Sillerman dismissed speculation that Fuller was angling for his turf.

While Fuller sits on CKX's board, Sillerman said that Fuller's strengths were on the production side of the business, not the financial side. A corporate position would be a "huge waste of his talent. . . . Simon is much more interested in creating things than he is in meeting with analysts and handling the chores of a public company chief executive."

A representative for Fuller did not respond to a request for comment.

Sillerman, who previously ran concert promoter FX Entertainment, waved off reports in the British media that Fuller wants to become chief executive of CKX. "There is nothing to what was reported. . . . I can't foresee any circumstance that Simon and I will not be working together for years and years to come."

Nonetheless, 19 Entertainment, which also produces Fox's "So You Think You Can Dance," represents the majority of CKX's business, signaling Fuller's clout at the company.

For the third quarter that ended Sept. 30, 19 Entertainment reported $71.4 million in revenue, accounting for 82% of parent company CKX's total revenue. Operating income for CKX was $11 million for the quarter, the bulk of which was likewise generated by 19 Entertainment. The company hasn't yet reported fourth-quarter results.

"American Idol" is a huge profit generator for 19 Entertainment, and Cowell's departure after this season could affect the show's ratings. Cowell has become a hugely popular personality on "Idol," trading on his sarcasm and acid wit.

The show, which launches its ninth season tonight, typically attracts more than 20 million viewers per episode, although the audience has tapered off slightly in recent seasons.

Sillerman said he didn't expect Cowell's departure to be a fatal blow to "American Idol."

"Simon Cowell is a spectacular talent; having said that, I think 'American Idol' is much bigger than any one individual," Sillerman said. "Perhaps new judge Ellen DeGeneres will ultimately become the next focal point of the show.

" 'American Idol' will outlive you and me."

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