The X Factor is a British television singing competition contested by aspiring singers drawn from public auditions, which started in September 2004. It is the originator of the international X Factor franchise. The seven series of the show to date have been broadcast from August/ September through to December. The show is produced by Fremantle Media's TalkbackThames and Simon Cowell's production company SYCOtv. The "X Factor" of the title refers to the undefinable "something" that makes for star quality. The show is broadcast on the ITV network in the United Kingdom and on TV3 in Ireland, with spin-off behind-the-scenes shows The Xtra Factor and The X Factor 24/7 screened on ITV2 and TV3. The X Factor was devised as a replacement for the highly successful Pop Idol, which was put on indefinite hold after its second series, largely because Cowell wished to launch a show to which he owned the television rights. The perceived similarity between the shows later became the subject of a legal dispute.
In the initial televised audition phase of the show, contestants sing in front of the judges – currently Simon Cowell, Louis Walsh, Dannii Minogue and Cheryl Cole – and, from series 6, a live audience, in the hope of getting through to the "bootcamp" round. After a further selection process, the judges are each given a category to mentor and the chosen finalists then progress to the final phase of the competition, during which the public vote for their favourite act following weekly live performances by the contestants. There have been seven winners to date: Steve Brookstein, Shayne Ward, Leona Lewis, Leon Jackson, Alexandra Burke, Joe McElderry and Matt Cardle.
The winning contestant's single is released in time for the end of year chart battle for the UK's Christmas number one, a spot which was gained in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010. All of the winners' singles have gone on to achieve the number one chart position nevertheless, with Brookstein and McElderry going on to claim the New Year's number one spot a week later instead. As of December 2010, a total of 17 number-one singles have been released by artists who have appeared on the show. The all-new X Factor champion receives a recording contract with record label Syco Music with a stated value of £1,000,000. This includes a cash payment to the winner, but the majority is allocated to marketing and recording costs. The show is the biggest television talent competition in Europe and has proved hugely popular with the public. Series 6 attracted 200,000 auditionees and peaked at 19.7 million UK viewers (a 63.2% audience share).10 million votes were cast in the series 6 final.
The X Factor format has been adopted in a number of other countries. Versions of the format have become successful throughout the world, most notably in Denmark, the Netherlands and Italy, as well as Spain, Greece, Portugal, India and Colombia. However, the original British version has not been broadcast in any other country (except Ireland) due to unresolved rights issues. Television stations in many countries, but especially Scandinavian ones, have expressed an interest in showing the UK version but have not been able to acquire the rights.
On 18 October 2010, ITV announced that Simon Cowell had signed a three year contract renewing The X Factor until 2013.