Top U.K. Christmas Song Is No Longer TV Favorite

After Online Campaign Against Simon Cowell's Winner, Rage Against the Machine Is No. 1

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LONDON (AdAge.com) -- "American Idol" judge Simon Cowell may be, according to Forbes magazine, the highest earner in the U.S. TV industry, with an income of $75 million last year, but he's less savvy online.

Mr. Cowell's success in old media is legendary. This year's Dec. 13 finale of his U.K. talent competition "X Factor" was watched by nearly 20 million people -- 62% of the viewing audience -- and he has used this pulling power to secure the No. 1 spot in the Christmas singles chart every year since the show began in 2005. But this year, an anti-Cowell backlash put an end to his run of chart-topping hits. That's a big deal in the U.K., where the ranking of songs is announced with great fanfare on BBC Radio 1 on Dec. 20, and Mr. Cowell schedules the "X Factor" finale for a week earlier to give the winner's song time to climb the charts.

The winning act, 18-year-old Joe McElderry, was beaten to the top of the charts by Rage Against the Machine, whose single "Killing in the Name" was propelled to No. 1 by a Facebook and Twitter campaign started by a solitary rock fan from Essex.

Around 6.5 million people voted for Joe McElderry to win the show, while part-time DJ Jon Morter's Facebook campaign, "Rage Against the Machine for Christmas No. 1," had a mere 513,587 fans.

However, only 450,000 people bothered to buy or download Mr. McElderry's single (a cover of Miley Cyrus' "The Climb"), against the 500,000 who bought "Killing in the Name, which includes the lyric, "Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me."

Mr. Morter told the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper that Simon Cowell had called him even before the chart rankings were announced. He said, "[Mr. Cowell] commended us on how we had marketed the campaign, and said if we won, he would be the first to congratulate us."

Last year, Mr. Morter tried to pull off the same trick against the 2008 "X Factor" winner, Alexandra Burke, by promoting the Rick Astley song "Never Gonna Give You Up." He succeeded in getting the song into the lower reaches of the charts, but this year's campaign was boosted by comedian Peter Serafinowicz, who urged his 274,000 Twitter followers to buy the RATM song. In another bonus, Paul McCartney, despite appearing on one of the "X Factor" shows, supported the RATM campaign and urged people to get the band's song.

The really big winner in the battle for Christmas number one was Sony BMG: Mr. Cowell's label, Syco, is a Sony subsidiary, and Rage Against the Machine is also signed to Sony.

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