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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - "American Idol" creator Simon Fuller on Monday marked a digital music milestone, and said he was looking to the Internet and other digital platforms for the next big thing in global entertainment.
At a time of crisis in the recording industry, Fuller's roster of singers which includes "Idol" winners Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood, British singer Annie Lennox and The Spice Girls, have sold 160 million songs on iTunes, his artist management company 19 Entertainment said.
Fred Bronson, author of "The Billboard Book of Number One Hits", called Fuller's 160 million iTunes tally "historic" in a decade which has seen album sales slump and cheaper, digital sales soar.
"He is without question the biggest manager of the digital age," Bronson said.
The British entrepreneur teamed up "American Idol" with iTunes at the Apple music store's 2003 launch, spotting its potential to capitalize on the TV singing show's appeal and the tens of millions of fans who watch it weekly.
"I felt there was a real synergy with what I do, which is launching new artists and TV shows, and what iTunes does, which is to sell music in an immediate and interactive way," Fuller told Reuters in a rare interview.
According to the world recording industry group IFPI, physical sales of music fell by 12.7 percent globally in 2009 while digital music sales rose by 9.2 percent to $4.3 billion -- more than 10 times the digital market value in 2004.
The artists Fuller represents have also sold more than 100 million CDs in North America over the last 10 years, 19 Entertainment said.
Fuller, who turns 50 years-old next week, said the speed of change had come as a shock to the music industry but he expressed hope for the future.
"The future is all about how the digital and the physical worlds can co-exist," he told Reuters.
"I think music in the long term is going to be just fine. But in the short term, as we see, (it's) bedlam and chaos. We have to reinvent, in music, TV and movies, that interaction between the consumer and the content we create."
Universal Music Group International chairman Lucian Grainge said digital distribution is a good fit for Fuller's global entertainment strategy.
"Today's digital platforms for selling music and reaching consumers worldwide means, quite simply, that the future belongs to people like Simon," Grainge told Reuters.
Steve Knopper, author of the 2009 book "Appetite for Self-Destruction; The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the digital age", said that although traditional album sales are shrinking, music is in good shape.
"The things that 'American Idol' has been doing and the way that Simon Fuller has been marketing the franchise digitally and otherwise, indicates that pop music is very healthy right now," Knopper said
"They are serving an important function for the record labels by putting pop music before the public in a mass way," he said.
Fuller is already placing his bets on a future in global entertainment based on the Internet. In March, he launched his multimedia interactive reality TV project "If I Can Dream", which follows a group of aspiring singers, dancers and actors living together in a "Big Brother" style house as they try to break into Hollywood.
"I think you have to be in that Internet space to fully grapple with the challenges that we face and hopefully define the next entertainment phenomenon," he said.
He described "If I Can Dream", which streams on Hulu.com, as a "fascinating experiment".
"I consider what I am doing right now as being the scientist in the laboratory doing endless experiments, most of which may not work, but I will learn more and more."
"This is the Wild West," he said. "You throw seeds down. Some grow and some don't."
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte