RTL CEO Not Drawn Into Simon Cowell Controversy

Gerhard Zeiler declined comment on the impact of Cowell's exit from hit U.K. talent show 'The X Factor.'

COLOGNE, Germany -- Gerhard Zeiler, CEO of European TV giant RTL Group, refused to be drawn in to the controversy surrounding Simon Cowell’s exit from hit U.K. talent show The X Factor, produced by RTL subsidiary FremantleMedia.

The former American Idol judge has ruled himself out as a juror for the next season of the British X Factor, electing instead to spend at least six days a week launching the U.S. version of the hit format. The news comes as a blow to U.K. net ITV, which signed a three-year-deal for the show last year.

Zeiler, speaking to journalists on a conference call Thursday for RTL’s year-end results, gave a stern “no comment” on questions regarding Cowell and how his exit would impact the ratings of X Factorin the U.K.

“Negotiations are on going between ITV and Fremantle and Simon Cowell and I am not going to impact those negotiations by commenting,” Zeiler said.

Zeiler did, however, dismiss rumors that RTL was looking to divest some of its primary U.K. assets – including Fremantle and production group Talkback Thames. Reports have suggested RTL might be looking to take Fremantle public.

“The simple answer is no, there are no plans to spin off FremantleMedia,” Zeiler said. “We will not sell FremantleMedia, not 1%...We will not sell Talkback Thames, not 1%. (They) are the core of our business.”

Fremantle, which in addition to X Factor produces the Masterchef, Got Talentand Pop Idolfranchises, earned $1.77 billion (€1.27 billion) and booked an operating profit of $195 million (€140 million) for RTL last year.

Auditions for the U.S. version of The X Factor begin later this month in L.A. The show bows on Fox in September.