Yahoo to Premiere Simon Cowell-Produced Reality Show This Year

Competition Series Will Center Around Electronic Dance Music DJs

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Simon Cowell
Simon Cowell Credit: Ray Mickshaw/Fox
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Yahoo is getting in the reality-TV business with one of the genre's biggest stars.

Yahoo plans to premiere a new reality series this year produced by former "American Idol" judge Simon Cowell, according to people with knowledge of the matter. In a spin on Mr. Cowell's previous series, the show with Yahoo will have electronic dance music DJs compete to be voted the best one.

A Yahoo spokeswoman declined to comment.

Mr. Cowell and EDM-centric production company SFX Entertainment had announced the series last year but had yet to sign a distribution deal. At the time the show was to be called "Ultimate DJ" and would start as an online competition that has the DJs post songs and earn votes and then the show would follow with live performances.

According to people briefed on Yahoo's plans, the show will mix pre-recorded and live segments and is expected to air weekly once it premieres on Yahoo Screen. It's unclear whether Yahoo will ask people to vote for their favorite DJs through Tumblr, though the people speculated that would be the case.

Yahoo appears to be going after Millennial-aged viewers with the series. "This type of show would seem to appeal to people who go out clubbing and feel more comfortable cutting the cord and using over-the-top services," said Horizon Media Senior VP-Research Brad Adgate.

Yahoo's pitch to advertisers for the series has centered around standard video ad packages and product placement deals, the people said.

Yahoo and Mr. Cowell appear to be both in need of a hit.

Yahoo has invested in premium programming like Katie Couric, "Saturday Night Live" and a daily concert series. But none have registered chatter at the level of other digital original series such as Netflix's "House of Cards" or Amazon's "Transparent." And with the new season of revived broadcast comedy "Community" on the way, as well as Yahoo's first two half-hour original comedies, the portal needs to start capturing audiences' attentions in order to keep advertisers' attentions and ward off activist investors' intentions.

Meanwhile Mr. Cowell hasn't premiered a new hit show in the U.S. since 2006 with "America's Got Talent." Mr. Cowell's reality shows were massive hits when they first premiered in the United Kingdom and United States, but their popularity has petered off. "The X Factor (UK)" season finale that aired in December 2014 scored its lowest ratings in a decade. And "American Idol" scored a series-low rating for a season finale episode last May.

"America's Got Talent," however, remains a summertime hit. And the reality competition genre appears popular enough. But in addition to capturing large and even live audiences, newer shows like "The Voice," "Dancing With the Stars" and "Master Chef Junior" have also worked to seize audiences on Twitter and Facebook. Yahoo -- which has been angling to squeeze Tumblr into that social TV conversation -- could give Mr. Cowell the tune-in driver that is all but required to have a hit reality competition show today.

Mr. Cowell has previously produced an online reality show. With YouTube's backing he created "The You Generation" YouTube channel in 2012. The channel aimed to raise the profile of the online video service's stars by having them compete in various challenges, like dance-offs and blindfolded drawing competitions. It has attracted more than 767,000 subscribers and notched more than 48 million views but hasn't posted a new video in nine months.

It's unclear how much Yahoo paid for the series. But considering that reality shows typically cost less to produce than scripted series, it may be easier for the company to make back its money from Mr. Cowell's show than the other three high-profile scripted series it plans to premiere this year, which include revived NBC comedy "Community" and two half-hour comedies that were announced at last year's NewFronts.

"If Simon Cowell is behind it, you have to think this will be something that's going to be an advertiser-friendly environment," Mr. Adgate said.