By Belinda Goldsmith
LONDON (Reuters) - Talent show guru Simon Cowell is taking his popular television formula to find new stars seeking fast fame to YouTube, joining a growing trend of companies using the Internet to bypass traditional broadcasters.
Cowell, the mastermind behind global TV franchises "The X Factor" and "Got Talent", unveiled plans on Monday for the first global audition channel, called The You Generation, that will be launched in 26 countries on March 20.
Syco Entertainment, Cowell's joint venture with Sony Music, said it had teamed up with YouTube to run 26 fortnightly contests over the next year to give people the chance to upload audition videos showing their skills and win a cash prize.
"Our mission is to discover the world's next big YouTube stars and showcase their amazing and unique talents on The You Generation channel," they said in a joint statement.
YouTube, the video-sharing website set up in 2005, has become a new way to uncover talent, most notably launching the career of Canadian teen pop star Justin Bieber.
Organizers of the new YouTube channel said wannabe stars can upload videos in a list of categories, from make-up artists to style gurus, chefs to vocalists, adding that all submissions would be judged by Syco executives and relevant experts.
Every fortnight one winner will get a cash prize and become a finalist to win "an amazing grand prize". No further details were available but winners of Cowell's singing contest, "The X Factor", win a recording contract.
Up to 69,000 people had subscribed to the channel by Monday.
Cowell, a household name in his native Britain who has appeared as the acerbic judge on several of his shows, recently branched out from his focus on stage talent and began exploring food with his new television show, "Food Glorious Food".
INTERNET BYPASSES TV
The YouTube star search comes after Cowell has seen ratings of some of his shows start to slide and acknowledged that more people were consuming content on demand via YouTube, with this trend being fuelled by Internet-connected TVs.
He told TV industry publication Broadcast late last year that online feedback was already playing a crucial role in shaping his shows and he was convinced that social media would become more important in the future evolution of Syco.
He is joining a growing band of companies heading straight to the Internet to entertain people as video streaming technology makes watching videos on laptops and mobile devices as easy as flicking on a TV set.
Amazon.com Inc, Google Inc's YouTube, Yahoo and Microsoft Corp are setting up shop in Hollywood to produce or license their own series.
Video service Netflix spent $100 million making "House of Cards" starring Oscar-winner Kevin Spacey with all 13 episodes made available at the same time so people could shape their own viewing schedule.
The companies have different business models - Amazon, Netflix and Microsoft have subscription services, YouTube sells advertising, while Intel Corp and Apple Inc may introduce cable-like services that offer channels online.
But they all sense an opening as consumers increasingly chafe at their mounting cable and satellite TV bills. A small, but increasing, number are starting to "cut the cord", or drop their service, say analysts.
You Generation territories were listed as Australia, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Belgium, Ireland, Netherlands, Britain, Czech Republic, France, Israel, Poland, Russia, Spain, Canada, the United States, Mexico, Argentina and Brazil.
(Editing by Pravin Char)