EXCLUSIVE & UPDATED: Obviously all those scandals affecting the UK version of his The X Factor talent show hasn’t scared away advertisers for the American version which debuts on Fox in Fall 2011. Now I’ve learned that a Cola War has kicked off. There’s a $50 million to $100 million auction going on right now between Coke and Pepsi for sponsorship of Cowell’s U.S. version of The X Factor. Coca-Cola has been a longtime sponsor of Fox’s American Idol; it got in on the ground floor for less than $10 million. That was a bargain based on ratings that were off the charts for the 12-week program, beating network promises by about 10% and capturing 23 million viewers for the closing finale. The soft drink company has one year left on its Idol contract and now Aerosmith singer and new Idol judge Steven Tyler is its poster boy. It makes sense that Coke would want to jump on The X Factor bandwagon as well. But even though I hear Coke is offering more money, my sources say Cowell et al think Pepsi would make a better fit.
Because of doubts about the show format, Pepsi passed on a multimillion-dollar sponsorship when American Idol was still an unknown in the early stages when dealmakers were trying to have more of the show’s expenses underwritten. Pepsi doesn’t want to make that mistake again. Not to mention that different sponsors would help The X Factor brand itself a new identity on Fox in the U.S. market outside of Idol‘s shadow. No matter, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp is convinced that with both a reworked Idol and transplated X Factor, Fox could have a banner 2011. Unless America is just saturated with talent contest shows. That’s not the case in Britain where Cowell’s UK version of The X Factor is enjoying its biggest season to date despite of, or because of, the constant controversies.