Simon Cowell’s relationship with ITV is a long one. It started with “Pop Idol,” on which he was a judge, and continued with “The X Factor” and “Britain’s Got Talent,” both of which are produced by his company Syco Entertainment with FremantleMedia.
“Pop Idol,” which was created by Simon Fuller, launched on ITV in 2001 and the U.S. version followed soon after.
“We pitched them ‘Pop Idol,’ and they bought it in the room, so, stupidly, I thought every meeting would be as easy as that,” Cowell says. “That was with (ITV’s then-controller of entertainment) Claudia Rosencrantz, who I had a fantastic relationship with. Then, after two years, I wanted to launch ‘X Factor,’ and they kind of bought it in the room again. They were very supportive of me on that.”
He adds: “ ‘Got Talent’ was a lot more tricky, because we made it as a pilot, and it didn’t work. To be fair, it was terrible. But we were lucky in that we sold it to NBC as a series, and it did well, and then ITV decided to run with it as well.”
Cowell acknowledges the contribution ITV has made to “X Factor” and “Got Talent,” starting with Rosencrantz and David Liddiment, ITV’s then-director of programs, and now with Peter Fincham, ITV’s director of television, and Elaine Bedell, director of entertainment and comedy.
“I consider them to be partners, and luckily enough friends as well. They are as committed to the formats as we are — making changes, developing it, protecting it,” Cowell says. “So we couldn’t really wish for a better partner on these two shows. And actually they are in it for the long term rather than a quick fix. They were always concerned about keeping the show relevant, keeping it fresh, always open to new ideas, and not a lot of people would do that.”
Cowell says the network “are very analytical, they do a ton of research, so you never go into something blind.”
ITV’s major strength is its ability to attract mass audiences, and Cowell’s shows have consistently achieved that, but he won’t be sitting on his laurels.
“You can’t get complacent when you make these shows. There is no secret formula, but there are things that we have done over the years that have managed to keep them popular,” Cowell says. “Mostly it is about respecting your audience. At the end of the day you are not making a show for the TV executives, you are making it for the people who watch it at home, and I have to say — whether it is Adam, Peter or Elaine — that is the way they are as well. So that’s why we’ve always had a good relationship.”
That relationship is likely to continue on new shows, including as production partners.
“We are starting to work with ITV on a few things. We are always open to work with like-minded people,” he says. “The good news is suddenly your buyers have tripled in size over the last five years. If we were having this conversation five years ago, it would have been a very different conversation. But when you look at what people like Netflix and Amazon are doing to the market. … We are living in a game-changing world right now, and content is going to be king. You’ve just got to make great content.”