'American Idol' to refocus on talent

CKX: Talks with possible judges, company buyers continue

NEW YORK - "American Idol" will refocus on strong talent in this coming season as it looks to revive its ratings and will have new judges in place within the next month, Michael Ferrel, CEO of owner CKX Inc., said Monday.

"We want to refocus 'Idol' on its talent," he told analysts on the company's quarterly earnings call. He highlighted that ratings, particularly among the key 18-49 demo, declined more strongly at the end of the previous season.

The audition process for the coming 10th season that started last month has averaged 13,000 candidates, executives said.  

Overall, Ferrel said he feels that "Idol" is better positioned this season thanks to the return of Nigel Lythgoe as executive producer - who he called "a proactive field general" who can help the show top to bottom - and a new deal with Universal Music Group, which will help with music selection and the like.

CKX management also said that talks with various candidates for the role of "Idol" judges and with possible acquirors of CKX continue.

An announcement on the judges front is likely to come no later than mid-September, they suggested without discussing specific names. Jennifer Lopez and Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler have been seen as two frontrunners.

Discussing a possible sale of CKX, CFO Tom Benson said dialogue with several potential suitors, including founder Robert Sillerman, are ongoing. He didn't mention others by name, but "Idol" creator Simon Fuller and JPMorgan Chase's private equity arm are also considered to be in the running.

Asked why CKX would even consider a sale as it has reduced costs and is looking to strengthen "Idol,: Benson said an independent board committee has to review bids, but a decision should come in the "not too distant future." Sources have said that CKX could decide on a sale by November, and Benson signalled the company will not be drawn into a long process. If no attractive deal materializes, "the company needs to move forward," he told analysts.
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