21st Century Fox is taking the universe and selling it around the globe.
After launching the ambitious “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” on its Fox broadcast network and Nat Geo cable outlet in the U.S., on March 9 and March 10, respectively, the media conglomerate intends to use 90 different Nat Geo outlets and 120 Fox-related networks around the world to launch the series globally – the first time the company has used the combined reach of two different networks to accomplish the task.
In all, said Liz Dolan, the chief marketing officer of Fox International Channels and National Geographic Channels International, and the executive overseeing the marketing of the program around the world, episodes of “Cosmos” will be able to reach 400 million households outside of the U.S. In some parts of the world, she said, the series may debut on several Fox-owned or affiliated outlets, raising the program’s chances of catching the eye of different types of viewers.
To get the word out about “Cosmos,” Fox International Channels is holding premieres in various countries that will be attended by Ann Druyan, an architects of the original series, and series host Neil deGrasse Tyson, the noted astrophysicist. They will attend screenings, press conferences and other special events in four different countries – London, Singapore, Sydney and Mexico City. Promos for the series have been customized for 44 different languages. A digital campaign intends to harness the interest of National Geographic’s 37 million Facebook fans.
“It’s a big show and it’s a big bet,” Dolan said. “It’s kind of risky in that it’s the kind of show people really don’t make anymore, because it’s actually about science and the origins of the universe and the future of humanity.”
“Cosmos” is one of a raft of unorthodox programming maneuvers announced by the U.S. Fox network, which is testing a new array of formats over the next several months, including a new miniseries run of its venerable “24” franchise. The non-traditional efforts are key for Fox, which has been experiencing drops in ratings and ad revenue as shows like “The X Factor” and “American Idol” show diminishing returns.
Reviving “Cosmos” is a bold gambit. The original 13-part series, which debuted on PBS in 1980, was one of that network’s most-watched programs. Presented by astronomer Carl Sagan, the series touched on issues ranging from the origin of life to the subatomic elements of an apple pie.
Fox’s series has garnered interest in part because of its backing. Not only are Druyan and Steven Soter, another of Sagan’s original collaborators on the original series on board in senior roles on the show, but Seth MacFarlane, the creator of the hit animated series “Family Guy,” is exec producing as well. Druyan’s Cosmos Studios is producing the program.
International distribution has taken a weightier role in the economics of TV programs, the profitability of which often hinges on overseas sales. In the case of an ambitious program like “Cosmos,” however, that gets a lot of pre-launch attention, hewing close to an older model of overseas sales – making viewers around the world wait months to see the program – can be self-defeating, particularly in an era of digital piracy. TV networks also find making the programs available more quickly can generate chatter about the show on social-media networks that can fuel attention for the U.S. run, Dolan said.
International markets will begin launching new episodes of ”Cosmos” within one week of their U.S. premiere. ,”We will be up to date with all of the U.S. Piracy is for shows people think are super-viral, like this, It’s a business imperative to get it out to the audience as quickly as we can,” Dolan said.
Fox International Channels has increasingly tried its hand at launching programs around the world. In 2012, it enlisted Unilever to sponsor a worldwide launch of “Touch,” a series that featured Kiefer Sutherland as the exasperated father of an emotionally challenged 11-year-old boy who predicts events around the world. Fox launched it in over 100 countries in a narrow window of time. Fox International also distributes “The Walking Dead,” and is about to launch a new cycle of that program. Also on the docket: another season of Nat Geo’s “Brain Games” and “Wayward Pines,” a coming “event series” from the Fox broadcast outlet.