"The X Factor" U.S. (which is televised in the U.S. on Fox) is once again headed toward cancellation, and sources have told me that Simon Cowell is planning to return to "The X Factor" U.K. judging panel after the U.S. show is cancelled. Cowell is likely to replace Gary Barlow (who replaced Cowell in 2011), since Barlow has announced that he will be busy in 2014 with a new Take That album, which will be followed by a Take That tour. (Cowell left "The X Factor" U.K. judging panel in 2011, but he has always been an executive producer/creator of the show.)
Sources also say there's virtually no chance that Cowell is going back to "American Idol," where he was a judge from 2002 to 2010, because Cowell does not own any part of "American Idol" (which is going through its own ratings problems), and he doesn't want to go back to being on a show where he would be just an employee, not a co-owner. Cowell has also had a long-standing feud with "American Idol" creator/executive producer Simon Fuller.
If "The X Factor" U.S. is cancelled at the end of its third season, the official announcement won't come until May 2014, when the networks typically announce what shows are on their schedules for the upcoming season. Until then, the official comments from Fox are that no decision has been made yet. Sources say that Fox's "American Idol" will definitely not be cancelled anytime soon and will continue to be prioritized as Fox's top-tier talent show.
Ratings for "The X Factor" U.S.'s third season (which premiered on Sept. 11, 2013) have reached an all-time low and are currently averaging about 6.5 million U.S. viewers per episode, according to the Nielsen Company. That's a decrease of about 50 percent from the U.S. audience that "The X Factor" U.S. had in the show's first season in 2011. While 6.5 million U.S. viewers per week is not automatic grounds for cancellation for an average reality show on U.S. network TV, the problem for "The X Factor" is that it is the most expensive reality show ever, and the costs (including Cowell's salary) can no longer justify the rapidly declining ratings.
Cowell has been telling the media that he's been "happier than I've ever been" now that he is going to become a father. (Cowell and New York socialite Lauren Silverman are reportedly expecting a baby boy in February 2014.) But Cowell can't be happy about "The X Factor" U.S.'s disappointing ratings and the show's failure to find an international superstar on the level of "American Idol" first winner Kelly Clarkson or "X Factor" U.K. boy band One Direction.
"The X Factor" U.S. has been a humiliating blow for Cowell, who in 2011 bragged to the media that the show would premiere to at least 20 million U.S. viewers. In reality, the show's first season premiere only got 12.5 million U.S. viewers, which are the highest ratings that the show ever got for a single episode. And even though Fox's "American Idol" has also had a big decline in ratings in the past few years, "The X Factor" has never been able to surpass "American Idol's" ratings in the United States.
But don't feel sorry for Cowell. He's still making millions (an estimated $95 million a year, according to Forbes magazine) from his entertainment empire, which includes "The X Factor" and "Got Talent" franchises around the world, as well as Syco Music (the company he co-owns with Sony Music), whose best-selling artists include One Direction and Susan Boyle. And he has a backup plan to return to "The X Factor" U.K. as a judge. He is currently a judge on ITV's "Britain's Got Talent."
"The X Factor" U.S. has been plagued with constant changes to its on-air talent, and these changes make the show look unstable. Cowell is the only star of the show who has been with "The X Factor" U.S. since the beginning. He is also an executive producer of the show.
To recap, here's who has come and gone from "The X Factor" U.S. since 2011:
- Cheryl Cole (judge) -- Fired in the first season after just a few weeks on the job.
- Paula Abdul (judge) -- Fired after the end of the show's first season.
- Nicole Scherzinger (judge) -- Fired after the end of the show's first season. (Scherzinger joined "The X Factor" U.K. judging panel in 2012, and she has had more success on the U.K. show.)
- Steve Jones (host) -- Fired after the end of the show's first season.
- Antonio "L.A." Reid (judge) -- Quit at the end of the show's second season.
- Britney Spears (judge) -- Contract not renewed. Insiders say that Spears knew she was going to be fired, and she announced her departure from the show first to the public in order to make it look like she quit.
- Khloe Kardashian (co-host) -- Fired after the end of the show's second season.
In 2013, "The X Factor" U.S judges are Cowell, Demi Lovato (who joined in 2012) and 2013 recruits Kelly Rowland and Paulina Rubio. The host is Mario Lopez, who joined the show in 2012.
"The X Factor" U.S. has also been heavily criticized for copying "American Idol" in too many ways. (FremantleMedia North America is a production company for both shows.) Cowell tells the media that he thinks that there are too many talent shows on TV and that they have hurt "The X Factor's" ratings in the U.S.
But Cowell does himself no favors when he tries to blame other talent shows for the failures of "The X Factor" U.S., because in the TV business, the lowest-rated of the shows are almost always the ones to be cancelled, so that means "The X Factor" is on the chopping block. Many TV critics and industry observers believe that "The X Factor" has hurt ratings for "American Idol," not the other way around. In addition, "The Voice" U.S. has been able to greatly increase its ratings since its first season (unlike "The X Factor" U.S.), so "The Voice" U.S. is an example of a show that has been able to thrive in the face of tough competition.
The real problems with "The X Factor" U.S. have to do with the show's content and choice of talent, according to many viewers who have been speaking out on the Internet about what's wrong with the show. These problems include unlikable judges or hosts; bombastic stage productions; annoying editing; contestants who aren't considered as talented as the contestants on "The Voice"; and the perception that Cowell has lost his edge. Many viewers think it's too late to fix these problems because the show won't be able to win back the millions of viewers that it has already lost.
In 2012, "The X Factor" U.S. was in danger of being cancelled because the show's costs were spiraling out of control. A large chunk of the budget was wasted on Spears' reported $15 million salary. Spears' celebrity status did not help the show's ratings. In fact, after she became an "X Factor' judge, ratings for the show fell a whopping 33 percent, to an average of about 9 million U.S. viewers per episode. And even worse, Fox lost millions in ad revenue because the ratings fell below Fox's promised expectation to advertisers, according Katz Media Group.
Sources told me that Fox decided to renew "The X Factor" U.S. for a third season on the condition that the show drastically reduce its spending. Chief among the mandates: no more seven-figure salaries for a judge. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Lovato's "X Factor" salary in 2013 is $2 million (up from a little more than $1 million in 2012) Ruubio's "X Factor" salary is $1.5 million, and Rowland's "X Factor" salary is $1 million. The National Enquirer reported that Lopez's "X Factor" salary in 2013 is $2 million, up from the reported $1 million he got from the show in 2012.
It's also no coincidence that "The X Factor" U.S. abruptly cancelled the "boot camp" and "judges' houses" phases of the competition in 2013, most likely to reduce expenses. Boot camp involves the show paying for 100 to 200 contestants acts to stay in an upscale hotel for about a week, not to mention the renting out of an arena for the boot camp performances. Judges' houses (which is something that really set "The X Factor" apart from the competition) involved the 24 or 32 contestant acts that were chosen from boot camp getting trips to different (sometimes exotic) locations, where they went to different mansions to perform for the judges mentoring their respective categories. A celebrity guest mentor is paired with each judge to help the judge decide which contestants to keep or eliminate. "The X Factor," of course, would have to pay for the travel and accommodations for all of those involved.
The third season of "The X Factor" U.S. has been a "make it or break it" season. And so far, things are looking pretty grim for the show's future. Not only has the show lost millions of viewers, but TV critics and many viewers have also been slamming the show's third season for being dull, predictable and unoriginal.
It should be noted that "The X Factor" franchise has been a success in other countries where it has launched in recent years, including New Zealand, China and Indonesia. However, in the U.S. (the world's largest TV market) has been a major disappointment that loses an alarming percentage of viewers with each subsequent season.
"The X Factor" first launched in the U.K. in 2004 and has since expanded to numerous other countries. Ratings have decreased for "The X Factor" U.K. since Cowell left the show's judging panel in 2011, but the ratings are still strong enough that ITV has renewed the show at least for the next few years. BBC's "The Voice" U.K. has not surpassed "The X Factor" U.K. in the ratings.
The opposite is true in the U.S., where NBC's "The Voice" U.S., now averages about twice as many viewers as "The X Factor" U.S.
In addition, "The Voice" U.S. is critically acclaimed and, in 2013, won TV's highest honor: an Emmy Award. "The Voice" made history by becoming the first singing show to win the Emmy Award for Outstanding Reality-Competition Program.
"The X Factor" has won awards for favorite reality show (at the 2013 People's Choice Awards and the 2013 Teen Choice Awards), but they pale in comparison to the prestige of an Emmy Award, which isn't voted on by teenagers who have the time to flood websites with their votes.
As for who will be on "The X Factor" U.K. judging panel when Cowell returns, it's too early to say, but expect Louis Walsh to remain a judge on the show. Despite announcing that 2013 would be his last year with "The X Factor" U.K., Walsh more recently admitted to the media that his announcement was a pre-emptive strike in case he got fired. Walsh has threatened to quit the show many times before, so he's like the "X Factor" judge who cries wolf.
Sharon Osbourne has also announced that 2013 will be her last year as an "X Factor" U.K. judge, and she has changed her mind before too. If she does leave the show, it will probably because of she wants to spend more time in Los Angeles, where she co-hosts the CBS weekday chat show "The Talk." As for Scherzinger, it's anyone's guess if she will remain on "The X Factor" U.K., because a lot will depend on how well she does as a contestant mentor in 2013.
In September 2013, Cowell was seen having a business meeting with British singer Rita Ora, so it seems the search for a new "X Factor" U.K. judge has already begun. Ora said that earlier this year, she turned down an offer to be a judge on the show (to replace Tulisa Contostavlos, who was fired), so it's possible that Ora (who was a guest judge on "The X Factor" U.K. in 2012) could be a contender in 2014. Any serious negotiations for a new "X Factor" U.K. judge in 2014 won't happen until March or April of that year.
In the meantime, ITV is keen to have Cowell back as a judge on "The X Factor" U.K., with very high hopes that he can boost the show's sagging ratings.
Oct. 9, 2013 update: BBC Radio 2 personality Chris Evans said on his show on Oct. 9, 2013: "Apparently, Gary Barlow is feeling the pressure ahead of the live shows. By the way, this will be Gary’s last year on 'The X Factor' ... because he told me last week.”