Everyone's a winner in the money factory that is 'Pop Idol'

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The Independent Online

Everybody will hit the jackpot when ITV's runaway success Pop Idol draws to a thunderous close tonight. But the actual contest winner could be the least of the victors.

The management, the record label, the production company and the publicists will all rake in fortunes, regardless of whether it is doe-eyed Gareth Gates who wins the chance of a recording deal or the older, suaver Will Young who gets the vote.

In the astutely managed world of Pop Idol, the cake is set to be cut many ways, with bookies and even the Government sharing in the bonanza.

But Simon Fuller, the former Spice Girls manager who founded the production and management company 19, is the man in line to be the biggest winner of all. It was Mr Fuller who dreamt up Pop Idol and took the idea to Thames, a subsidiary of Pearson Television. Thames and 19 each have a 50 per cent stake in the format of the show, which could become a worldwide money-spinner.

Charlie Parsons, one of the founders of the Planet 24 production company, is estimated to have made upwards of £60m when he sold the format of the reality show Survivor to a US television network. Sources close to Pop Idol think the series, which has won an audience of 10 million in Britain, could do even better.

Both Nicki Chapman, who sits on the show's judging panel, and Nigel Lythgoe, who produces the show, work for 19 and will be involved in what unfolds after the TV cameras have stopped rolling.

Ms Chapman will take day-to-day control of the Pop Idol winner, with a management fee that could be 20 per cent or more of earnings. And Mr Lythgoe, who left ITV to run 19's television division, is likely to be executive producer if the show is sold overseas. Aside from 19, there is BMG, the record label releasing the music. The first single is due this month and an album is expected within the year. Simon Cowell, the "Mr Nasty" on the panel of judges, is a BMG director.

Those with their fingers in the pie do not end there. The revenue from the telephone polling frenzy each Saturday night has been enormous.

It was originally thought the show might register 5 to 10 million votes across the 20-week series. But 5.8 million people cast their vote last weekend – netting ITV £2.5m in little more than two hours. Even more votes are expected tonight, making it the biggest telephone poll handled by BT.

The cost of every telephone or online vote is 10 pence. BT, ITV, 19 and Thames share the revenue, with BT getting 36 per cent, the biggest cut. Even the Government benefits to the tune of 17.5 per cent VAT.

Bookies, too, have seen an avalanche of interest. A William Hill spokesman said: "We've already seen it become the biggest betting turnover for one of these reality television shows. Turnover is into six figures now and has exceeded [Channel 4's] Big Brother."

So how will Gareth or Will themselves fare? There are those convinced the winner has already been chosen. This speculation was boosted when a recording emerged on a Manchester local radio station yesterday of an interview in which Gareth discussed how he had won the show.

A spokeswoman said both finalists had recorded such interviews in advance and that Gareth's had been issued to certain radio stations early to compensate for interviews he was unable to give when he was ill earlier in the week. The stations should have been made aware of the circumstances, she said.

Julian Henry, who ran the publicity campaign, insisted everything was to be decided tonight – and Simon Fuller was working on a strategy that could bring the victor £1m in his first year. "He's thinking Elvis Presley or Frank Sinatra – he's looking at doing it in quite a classy way," Mr Henry said.

Ironically, even the losers will not have much to grumble about. The celebrity gossip website Popbitch was speculating this week that Simon Cowell will also sign not only the runner-up, but the third-placed contestant, Darius Danesh – who was voted off the show by viewers a week ago – not least to prevent any other record company signing him.

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