21st Century Fox CFO on Broadcast Network: ‘Disappointment has Turned to Excitement’

Fox's new series "Gotham" stars Ben

The best is yet to come.

From film to broadcast to cable, that was the theme of 21st Century Fox Chief Financial Officer John Nallen’s remarks during a Q&A session Thursday at the MoffettNathanson Media & Communications Summit.

Nallen’s optimistic assessment came on the heels of Fox’s upfront presentation Monday, during which the network was in rebuilding mode, as it reduces its commitment to workhorse “American Idol” and moves to fill the hours vacated by “The X-Factor’s” cancellation. Both music programs endured ratings struggles.

“We were disappointed in the last season at Fox,” Nallen said.

However, he stressed that the company was heartened by the response from advertisers and pundits to new Fox shows such as the Batman prequel “Gotham” and the mystery series “Wayward Pines.”

“The disappointment has turned to excitement around where the Fox broadcast network is headed for next season,” he added.

That same attitude was on display as Nallen touched briefly on Fox’s theatrical division, as 20th Century Fox suffered a number of disappointments at the close of 2013 when “The Counselor,” “Runner Runner” and “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” failed to catch fire at the box office. Yet it has been on the upswing of late with the release last month of “Rio 2” and “The Other Woman.”

“The first half is in the rear view mirror,” Nallen told the gathering of Wall Street cognoscenti. “The second half we have far better hopes.”

The studio is well-positioned this summer and beyond, he argued, ticking off a list of high-profile sequels such as “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past.”

He was also bullish on a smaller-scale project — the adaptation of the young adult best-seller “The Fault in Our Stars,” which hits theaters in June and stars “Divergent’s” Shailene Woodley. Press tours featuring the film’s youthful and aesthetically pleasing cast have been “like a Beatles concert,” Nallen quipped.

“We have aspirations for it to be a very big and profitable movie,” he said.

21st Century Fox has expended a great deal of time and treasure launching two cable networks, FXX and Fox Sports 1, and Nallen predicted that the investment will reap rewards as audiences get more accustomed to finding both channels.

Despite the myriad ways — digital, smartphone and otherwise — that audiences are currently accessing content, channel placement is still important, he argued. The hope is to have FXX “hug” the FX channel in the future, much as it has done on DirecTV with strong results, Nallen said.

“Right now it’s the single biggest issue…getting people to find that channel,” Nallen said.

In the case of FXX, the channel is banking on the upcoming syndication of The Simpsons” as a perfect platform for driving awareness and audiences to the new platform. 

In the case of Fox Sports 1, Nallen was pleased with its Major League Baseball and NASCAR offerings, while implying that the network might be in the hunt for professional basketball when the NBA rights come into play in 2017.

“We’d love to participate in that product,” he said.

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