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'American Idol' dumps Sony, aligns with UMG

On his way to waving good-bye to fellow judge Ellen DeGeneres, talent show creator Simon Fuller also drops Sony Music. "American Idol" has sold more than 120 million downloads.

"American Idol," the juggernaut talent show that has dominated TV ratings the past nine seasons, has signed a new distribution and marketing deal with Universal Music Group, the largest of the top four record companies.

Adam Lambert, a former 'American Idol' contestant, performs at the Vevo launch party last December. Greg Sandoval/CNET

Yes, this story isn't exactly technology-centric, but the partnership between UMG and Simon Fuller, the creator of "American Idol," could impact download sales for two of the four biggest major recording companies.

The show, to date, has sold more than 120 million iTunes downloads and has helped launch the careers of such music stars as Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, and Adam Lambert. "American Idol" is estimated to have generated anywhere from $400 million to $600 million in total music sales, according to industry sources.

The multiyear agreement calls for UMG, specifically UMG co-CEO Lucian Grainge and Interscope Geffen A&M chairman Jimmy Iovine, to promote and distribute albums globally from "American Idol" finalists and winning contestants. The Los Angeles Times, which broke the story, reported that if UMG's deal is similar to Sony's, "the company will have right of first refusal for the show's final 12 contestants.

While the agreement represents a triumph for UMG, the news may be a painful blow to Sony Music Entertainment and CEO Rolf Schmidt-Holtz. Last month, the New York Post reported that parent company Sony had begun searching for candidates to replace Schmidt-Holtz. Sony has seen some revenue increases in the past year, but a large chunk of it can be traced to Michael Jackson's death, which sent sales of his music soaring.

In a statement issued Tuesday, Fuller said: "With Idol celebrating our 10th season, I wanted to inject some new power and weight behind our brand."

A Sony Music representative was not immediately available for comment.