Deal for 530-plus episodes of enduring Fox toon marks largest off-network sale ever
Homer and Co. are in rolling in dough: Fox’s Twentieth Century Fox TV and Twentieth TV have set a massive first-ever cable syndication and VOD sale of “The Simpsons” to FX Networks’ new outlet FXX that is worth more than the Gross Domestic Product of some small nations.
With 530 episodes and counting, the sale is valued at upwards of $750 million over the life of the deal. Deal also calls for the vast archive of “Simpsons” segs to be available on VOD via the soon-to-launch authenticated FXNow mobile viewing app — which is sure to be a draw for the service as “Simpsons” segs have never been widely distributed online and have never been on any SVOD platform.
The prospect of “Simpsons” becoming available on cable stirred a frenzy among buyers, with competitive bids fielded by Turner Broadcasting, USA Network, Viacom cablers and Tribune for WGN America. Keeping the deal in the Fox family makes strategic sense for 21st Century Fox as it looks to build up the profile of FXX, the comedy spinoff of FX that bowed in September. And the final pricetag for the deal was undoubtedly set at market rates given the certainty that “Simpsons” profit participants, including creator Matt Groening and exec producer James L. Brooks, had reps scrutinizing the bidding process. (Sources say reps for the creators included attorney Sam Fischer and syndie biz vet Ed Wilson.)
The term of the deal is said to be about 10 years. A hard end date was important to both sides in the pact, because of the show’s incredible longevity on the Fox network. Twentieth TV has been handicapped in maximizing the value of the show in syndication because of open-ended syndie agreements struck with local TV stations more than 20 years ago, which meant that the distrib was not going to make the same mistake twice. It took some creative horse-trading with the incumbent syndication stations to finally open up the cable/VOD window for the show, according to sources.
FXX and FXNow will have access to the past 24 seasons of “Simpsons” starting in August. The following month, the show’s 25th season will become available, as the show begins season 26 on Fox. It’s unclear how many older episodes will be made available at any given time on FXNow. (Details of the FXNow launch will be unveiled at a Gotham news confab on Dec. 3.) FXX is expected to stack six to eight episodes on one or two nights, probably in thematic packages, rather than air them across the week as in traditional syndication.
FXX will also make some “Simpsons” episodes available to MVPD operators for their own authenticated VOD platforms, outside of the FXNow app. The volume of sets and timing of availability is still being worked out.
“Simpsons” has been in broadcast syndication since 1993 but was unable to set a cable sale due to restrictions in the original contracts with local stations. Nor has Fox’s syndication arm been able to profit from barter time in the show, which makes the cable/VOD payday all the sweeter for 20th Century Fox TV and Twentieth TV.
“Simpsons” segs have been relatively unexposed even in broadcast syndication because of the length of the time the show has been on Fox. Most local stations have used up all of their allotted runs of older seasons of the show, even as they get access to the most recent episodes after the conclusion of each season on the Fox network.
Fox has made a few episodes of each current season available for streaming on Hulu. And some, but not all, seasons of “Simpsons” have been available for purchase on iTunes.
The limited exposure and the evergreen factor of “Simpsons” as an animated property helped boost the value of the show. The only comparable property that might come on the off-network block in the future could be a package of “Law & Order” series reruns should NBCUniversal opt to sell a mammoth package of the various shows (“Law & Order” yielded 456 episodes; “Law & Order: SVU” is over 300 and still going).
The “Simpsons” pact between FX and Twentieth took more than a month to negotiate, with talks principally handled by FX’s Chuck Saftler and Chris Antola and Twentieth TV’s Steve MacDonald and Greg Meidel.
” ‘The Simpsons’ is indisputably one of the greatest shows in television history,” said FX Networks CEO John Landgraf. “We are honored to have it associated with FX Networks and FXX. This was a very long, hard and complicated negotiation and I credit the relentlessness and diligence of Chuck Saftler for getting it done. I also want to thank Gary Newman and Dana Walden at TCFTV, and Greg Meidel and Steve MacDonald at Twentieth Television. Most important of all, I want to thank Jim Brooks, Matt Groening and Al Jean and everyone at Gracie Films for this new partnership.”
Saftler, FX Networks’ prexy of program strategy and chief operating officer, noted with glee that he had penciled in “The Simpsons” as a wish-list item on one of the first programming grids he drew up for FX when he joined the cabler 20 years ago.
” ‘The Simpsons’ is the crown jewel of television and the longest-running, most successful comedy series in television history, which is testament to the amazing talents of Jim Brooks, Matt Groening, Al Jean, and the Gracie Films team,” Saftler said. “This is a historic deal for FXX and FX Networks and I don’t believe there will ever be another one like it.”
“ ‘The Simpsons’ long ago crossed over from ‘brilliant award-winning comedy series’ to ‘full-fledged cultural phenomenon,’ and this landmark deal is a testament to its enduring power and relevance,” said 20th Century Fox TV Chairmen-CEOs Gary Newman and Dana Walden. “Matt, Jim and Al continue to deliver one of the most ingenious creations of the modern era, and we could not be more excited that the ever growing library of more than 500 episodes will now be available to FXX viewers. The passion for this property from John, Chuck and everyone at FX was overwhelming, and we are grateful to Greg, Steve and Lori Bernstein in constructing this complicated and groundbreaking deal.”