American Idol host Ryan Seacrest’s fat contract with CKX — the quirky company that owns the rights to the show — seems to have done a number on Idol’s profits. Despite all the upbeat talk about Idol’s ratings resurgence so far this year, the show’s 1Q operating profit for CKX of $13.6 million was down 17% vs. the same period last year on revenues of $28.4 million, down 2%. Publicly traded CKX breaks out results for Idol because it accounts for about 53% of the company’s revenues, which also include licensing income for Elvis Presley and Muhammad Ali. The report is as good a barometer as you’ll find for Idol‘s economic performance: CKX collects a license fee from Fox, as well as revenue for Idol-related syndication, sponsorship deals, merchandise and its concert tours. But CKX’s 48% operating profit margin for Idol in the three months that ended in March was the lowest 1Q result for the show since 2006, when CKX began reporting the show’s finances. CKX says that its Idol-related expenses came to $14.8 million. That’s up 17% from last year — and 260% from two years ago. The biggest change appears to be the $45 million employment contract that CKX struck with Seacrest in 2009 that locks him in through 2012. CKX has already paid Seacrest $33.5 million; Fox, in turn, pays CKX $5 million a year for Seacrest. Another change: Fox used to pay $5 million a year to Idol creator Simon Fuller’s 19 Entertainment for its relationship with Sony Music; CKX bought 19 in 2005. Sony used to release recordings from the American Idol winner and any other finalists Fuller wanted to sign. But Fuller’s doing business now with Universal Music. He switched sides after Simon Cowell, who’s a producer for Sony, left Idol to launch a U.S. version of The X Factor — a rival talent contest he introduced in the UK. CKX says that it’ll do just fine without Fox’s $5 million check: Universal will provide a “significantly higher” payment to CKX for each Idol-related recording it sells. Fuller left CKX last year but serves as a consultant and collects 10% of its Idol-related net profits.
CKX will discuss Idol’s performance and other financial matters in a conference call with analysts Tuesday.