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If Seacrest is worth $45 million, how much will Simon Cowell get?

July 13, 2009 |  2:55 pm

Is Ryan Seacrest worth $45 million?

SEACREST Congratulations to Seacrest on his new guaranteed three-year contract to host "American Idol." According to SEC documents filed by CKX Inc., the  parent of "Idol" producer 19 Entertainment, Seacrest is getting $10 million a year as host and a one-time payment of $15 million for his merchandising rights. Even his expense account got a boost, going from $100,000 annually to $300,000.

The eye-raising contract, which doubles Seacrest's hosting salary, comes at a time when the media in general and broadcast television in particular is being belted in the face by the recession. The networks are struggling to sell ad time for the fall season and the ratings for "Idol," while still strong, have been on the decline for the last few years. This past season, "American Idol" averaged 26.6 million viewers, down 12.5% from two years ago.

This isn't to take anything away from Seacrest's talents. He is a tireless worker, top radio personality and budding reality producer who is also pulling down millions from a deal with Comcast's E! cable channel. He does a good job of playing a foil to Simon Cowell.

But the YouTube moments of "American Idol"  involve the four judges, and Cowell in particular -- not the host.

COWELL Cowell's team must be salivating at Seacrest's new deal. His current salary is about $36 million annually, more than three times as much Seacrest's new hosting deal. But the big bump for Seacrest will make it difficult for CKX to play hardball with the program's main draw when his contract expires next spring. Speculation is that Cowell's next deal will bring him north of $40 million annually.

That's obviously a hefty sum, but keep in mind that even with shrinking ratings the show is still a huge hit and financial powerhouse. The finale of "American Idol" can command more than $1 million per commercial and the program has brought in billions in revenue for Fox and producers 19 Entertainment and Freemantle Media. Cowell is the straw that stirs that drink.

Of course, no one is irreplaceable. Believe it or not, there was a time when few thought Jon Stewart could succeed Craig Kilborn on "The Daily Show."

-- Joe Flint

Photo Credits: Ryan Seacrest (top) by Dan Steinberg/Associated Press; Simon Cowell by Jason Merritt/Getty Images.

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