Mipcom: Personality of the Year Simon Cowell Grew From Humble Beginnings

Simon Cowel Mipcom Personality of the
Julian Callos for Variety

When “Got Talent” was named the most successful reality TV franchise by the Guinness Book of World Records in April, it set a another benchmark for Simon Cowell’s Syco Entertainment. The top-rated Britain-born series has local versions in 58 territories, from Iceland to Kazakhstan, demonstrating just how much reach Cowell’s brand of talent scouting has worldwide.

Not only does Cowell produce shows that lead to hit records — and in the case of One Direction, a 3D Morgan Spurlock-directed concert film — he does so in a way that engages audiences around the globe, a skill Mipcom chose to honor with the Personality of the Year Award.

“We look for industry visionaries (who) have a very important role in creating original content that are driving major brands (with) impact internationally and, at the same time, are pushing boundaries. And Simon Cowell matches all of these,” says Laurine Garaude, who heads Mipcom for Reed-Midem.

Cowell’s “personality” is what brought him to on-camera fame in America in 2002, as the blunt, no-nonsense judge on Fox’s “American Idol.” But however acerbic his criticisms were during those eight seasons, he never hesitated to be honest about what it takes to succeed.

“It’s a constant battle to win, and that’s really all I care about,” Cowell told Dan Rather in an August interview for ASX TV. “Whether I’m liked or not is sort of immaterial. I’d like to feel I’m respected, but liked is something completely different.”

Ensuring Cowell’s enduring impact around the world for years to come, Syco Entertainment recently announced several new partnerships and shows. In April, Syco debuted plans for a show called “Ultimate DJ,” in partnership with T-Mobile, that will cultivate fresh DJ talent. Another new series produced with Univision, “La Banda,” will search for the next hot Latino boy band. And Syco has a long-term film development deal with Animal Logic to produce and develop music-based animation and hybrid live-action/animation projects, the first of which will be a “Betty Boop” movie coming in 2016.

While the U.S. version, “America’s Got Talent,” has been a consistent summer ratings hit for NBC since its debut in 2006, Cowell has used his lofty platform over the years to discover top-selling music acts like One Direction, Susan Boyle and Il Divo, all of which appear on the Syco record label. He also created “The X-Factor,” which has local productions in almost 50 territories, and has started producing feature films, most notably the Weinstein Co.’s October release “One Chance,” which stars James Corden as an amateur opera singer who wins “Britain’s Got Talent.”

Yet, like so many mythical Hollywood success stories, Simon Cowell’s path to becoming a global force in entertainment began at the most humble of levels: the mailroom.

“You hustle your way into the main part of the company,” Cowell told Rather. “It’s a business where they invest millions of dollars, but they give you no training. So when you screw up — and I did in the early days — I was told in no uncertain terms why I’d made a mistake.”

The experience instilled in him a drive for constant refinement that FremantleMedia CEO Cecile Frot-Coutaz has witnessed first-hand in the 14 years she’s known Cowell since meeting him on “American Idol.”
“He’s incredibly driven,” says Frot-Coutaz, who works with Cowell on “Got Talent” and “The X-Factor.” “He wants to know that he has done everything he could to make the best possible show.”

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