The big winner of 'The X Factor' is not who you think it is

Shayne Ward, a shop assistant from Manchester, may have topped the viewers' poll inThe X Factor and his single, "That's my goal", seems set to be the Christmas number one, but he was not the real winner of Saturday's television talent contest.

Whether Ward will still be in the public eye this time next year is debatable; last year's winner, soul crooner Steve Brookstein, has all but disappeared. But one thing seem certain - in 12 month's time, Simon Cowell, the creator of The X Factor, is likely to be presiding over a third money-spinning series.

Cowell, a former talent spotter turned Pop Idol judge, is "the most important creative force in popular music, television and pop music in the world", said one senior music industry figure. And he is now heading to be one of the richest.

Cowell, 46, will not say how much he is worth, but a survey of music business moguls put his fortune at £35m. He recently said that he would like to be worth £100m "in a few years".

The finale of the second series of The X Factor will have taken him another leap down that path. The show was produced by Cowell's company, SycoTV, with Thames Television, and his record label, SycoMusic, has signed Ward. Those rights are in turn licensed to SonyBMG.

Although The X Factor was narrowly beaten by the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing, which netted 10.4m viewers, Cowell will not be too worried. Thanks to the publicity generated by his show, which racked up an average of 9.2m viewers, "That's My Goal" is expected to be the 2005 Christmas hit. An album and second single will follow in the spring.

Winning is expected to change the life of Ward, who comes from a rundown area of Manchester, whose father is in prison for rape and whose mother was arrested last week for assault. But it is not guaranteed. Brookstein, who was already an experienced club singer, split from the Cowell set-up, unhappy about being asked to record covers.

Record sales are not the only way The X Factor makes money for Cowell. Most of the voting was by telephone and text which, at 35p a call, provides regular revenue during the 18-week run, shared between Syco, Thames and Harvest Media, a telecoms company. Although weekly voting figures are not released, Saturday's 10.8 million votes netted an estimated £3.5m. Added to this is income from merchandising and DVD sales.

The X Factor is only one part of the Cowell empire built up in the 15 years since he began as a talent spotter for Sony. He has helped mastermind the careers of artists as diverse as Robson and Jermone, Gareth Gates and Il Divo. Other shows following the X Factor format are in the pipeline, as well as a feature film - about a boy band, of course.

A web of deals links Cowell with other music business figures. Louis Walsh, a judge on The X Factor, and now Ward's manager, also manages Westlife, whose records are released on Syco's label. Simon Fuller, who discovered the Spice Girls, launched Pop Idol with the acerbic Cowell as judge, where he was an instant success. The American Idol version was even bigger, earning him a cartoon appearance on The Simpsons, the ultimate cultural accolade.

The two Simons recently fell out over claims that Cowell "stole" the Pop Idol format for The X Factor, but in an out-of-court settlement, Cowell agreed to return as a judge for American Idol, while Fuller's company gets a share of the next series of The X Factor. The next Shayne Wards can already sign up for auditions.