Simon Cowell, the television talent judge and record producer, is demanding a rise in his $8m-a-year (£4.7m) fee for appearing on the US hit show American Idol. Otherwise, he says, he will broadcast a rival contest based on his British hit, The X Factor.
Cowell says he will agree to stay only if there is a sharp improvement in his pay. He also wants the right to sign the American Idol winner to his own record label, part of Sony BMG, an agreement that operated during the show's first two seasons.
But Cowell's aggressive negotiating stance is upsetting executives at Fox television network and its parent company, Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation, who are anxious not to put at risk the success of American Idol, their most profitable show.
The all-comers' knock-out singing contest, broadcast each week on two consecutive nights, is so popular with Americans that Fox charges advertisers $700,000 for a 30-second break in the show. Even the enormous hit Desperate Housewives can demand only $550,000.
As well as the revenue Fox enjoys from American Idol, the show is the network's most powerful weapon in the ratings war. Fox is currently considering moving Idol to Thursdays to compete more strenuously for the largest audience of the week.
Cowell is contracted to appear in the next season of American Idol, starting in January, but, in light of the show's runaway success, he is renegotiating the deal in the belief that Fox needs him to ensure the show's continued success.
The threat to set up a rival to American Idol is a real one for Fox. Cowell's top-rated British hit, The X Factor, would easily translate for American viewers and both the ABC and NBC networks have expressed interest in screening the show. He has offered Fox the US rights to The X Factor to prevent others from setting up a rival.
Cowell, who has homes in Holland Park in London, and in Beverly Hills and Malaga, and owns a collection of luxury cars, admits his motivation in the Fox negotiations is his enjoyment of money. Asked what he would wish for, he answered: "More money. If it could pour on me every day like a shower, I would lie in that shower for hours. I just love it."