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Foes’ ‘Idol’ threat

Fremantle fights it out with Endemol franchise, clones

HOLLYWOOD — “American Idol” is the behemoth of talent search shows Stateside, but worldwide the Fremantle Media format, which has sold into 110 countries, often battles Gestmusic Endemol’s “Operacion Triunfo” or local clones of both formats.

“OT,” a singing academy in which competitors live together while they receive tuition, first aired in Spain on TVE-1 in October 2001.

Some 13 million viewers (a 68% share, a record since private TV began in Spain in 1990) watched Rosa, Chenoa and David Bisbal win the first season’s four-hour finale in 2002.

So great was “OT’s” effect that “Pop Idol” has never aired in Spain, and “OT” has gone on to prominence in most of Spanish-speaking Latin America (Brazil gets both shows — dominant broadcaster Globo has “OT,” while “Idol” airs on second-rated net SBT.)

Fremantle Media is hitting back with pan-regional, “Latin American Idol” for feevee Sony Entertainment Television, which will bow in July.

“OT” also spawned French hit “Star Academy” and the BBC’s successful “Fame Academy,” while ABC and Endemol USA are teaming on a U.S. version of “OT.”

One market that neither Fremantle nor Endemol is likely to crack with their talent formats is China, where last summer’s second-season finale of clone “The Mongolian Cow Yogurt Supergirl Contest” drew an eye-popping 400 million viewers for Hunan Satellite Television, a central Chinese TV network.

In the final, the best three singers got more than 300,000 SMS votes at 30¢ a pop — a windfall for mobile phone operators, including China Mobile.

The winner — spiky-haired, 21-year-old college student Li Yuchun — has become a phenom in China.

The Mongolian Cow dairy is said to have paid $1.7 million to sponsor the show, a bargain since sales of its yogurt have trebled to $185 million in a country where dairy is not generally on the menu.

The show’s success has even shaken mighty state broadcaster CCTV, irked by the first threat to its dominance of the $11 billion advertising market.

Here’s how the battle shakes out elsewhere:

(John Hopewell in Madrid, Mary Sutter in Miami, Marcelo Cajueiro in Rio De Janeiro and Clifford Coonan in Beijing contributed to this report.)

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