'Idol' partners with iTunes


UPDATED Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2008 10:30 a.m.

Apple iTunes has partnered with "American Idol" to become the fourth official integration partner in the show and to allow fans to purchase all of the top 24 semifinalist performances exclusively on the iTunes store starting Tuesday.

For the first time, "Idol" fans can purchase contestant performances for 99 cents per song. They will be able to purchase the full video of the top 12 finalist performances for $1.99 per song starting March 11. Fans can also pre-order performances of their favorite contestants from the iTunes store, which will be downloaded automatically the day after the show airs.

"We have some truly outstanding talent this year, and by working with Apple and iTunes, we're giving viewers another great way to enjoy America's brightest new stars from Idol," said Simon Fuller, creator of "Idol" and founder and CEO of 19 Entertainment. "I'm sure there will be many memorable performances that viewers will want to relive from this 2008 season."

With its deal with Fox and "Idol" producers 19 Entertainment and Fremantle Media, Apple iTunes now becomes the fourth integration partner in "Idol" -- which is in its seventh season -- joining Coke, Ford and AT&T. It is the first time an on-air integration partner has been added since the second season of "Idol." Apple will buy commercial time in the show, there will be callouts – some of them by host Ryan Seacrest – for viewers to go to iTunes to purchase audio and video performances, and there will be integrations of iTunes, iPod, iPhone and iPod Touch throughout the season.

"From this week right through the end of the season, you'll see demonstrations of people using the iPhone and you'll see kids interacting with their iPods, using them to rehearse," said Keith Hindle, executive vp of licensing for Fremantle Media Enterprises.

The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. Coke, Ford and AT&T pay roughly $35 million each for commercial time, on-air integration and off-air marketing rights. Fremantle, 19 and Fox declined comment on whether Apple's fees would be any less due to the iTunes component of the deal and the unique, hip cachet that Apple brings to the table. For "Idol" performances sold on iTunes, Apple and Idol's partners will share in the revenue in the typical split for iTunes deals.

With the new deal in place, iTunes now becomes "Idol's" exclusive online music and video download provider, iPod becomes the official MP3 player/digital music device and iPhone becomes the series' official handset.

iTunes is also the exclusive sponsor of the series' live contestant performance streams on www.americanidol.com and will have substantial branded presence on the website. iTunes will provide exclusive direct links from the free streaming performance videos on www.americanidol.com, with fans able to simply click through to iTunes if they want to purchase their favorite performances to download on their iPod, iPhone or AppleTV.

"Idol" producers have previously said they wanted to be very cautious about over-commercializing "Idol" or altering a proven formula for success with three integration partners viewers had become accustomed to being part of the fabric of the show.

"When we were looking at partners everybody felt this was the right way to go," said Mark Brittain, head of commercial for "American Idol" at 19 Entertainment. "This a huge announcement in the journey of 'American Idol.' Nothing of this scale has been done. This is a music show and Apple is the biggest online music store. It's a seamless integration into the show and it basically enhances the credibility of the artists."

Added Hindle, "We always wanted a music partner. We just waited for the right time and the right structure for doing it. We didn't want to bring on too much around the show that does make it over-commercialized. But kids rehearsing their songs before they perform with an iPod is really organic."

Eddy Cue, Apple's vp of iTunes said a special section has been created on the iTunes store for "Idol" fans. "We think 'American Idol' viewers are going to love the ability to purchase and download 'Idol' performances from iTunes."

Brittain said the deal between "Idol" and iTunes stemmed from their successful partnership last year for "Idol Gives Back," in which guest performances from talent like Carrie Underwood and Celine Dion were sold on iTunes and the proceeds donated to children in extreme poverty in America and Africa. He described that partnership as a "phenomenal success" that broke new ground in iTunes sales, particularly with Carrie Underwood's "Stand by Me" release. "The next logical step was to explore a relationship with iTunes and 'American Idol' around the show itself."