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FX Networks to Launch App That Could Counter Netflix

FXNow app stocked with blockbuster movie library unavailable on subscription VOD

A cable network like FX and a streaming service like Netflix might not appear to be direct competitors, but that’s going to change in December.

That’s when FX Networks, a 21st Century Fox-owned portfolio of channels including FXM and FXX, will launch an app with the kind of library aimed at squarely providing multichannel subscribers with the kind of movie selection they might otherwise look to Netflix to provide.

FXNow will boast the kind of library titles that are in Netflix’s sweet spot, including multiple installments of popular franchises such as “Iron Man,” “Twilight,” “Thor” and “Grownups,” not to mention “The Avengers,” “Captain America,” “Ted and “World War Z.” (Netflix gets some of those titles in the pay-TV window, but they disappear from the service in the basic-cable window where FX and Netflix buy most of their movies.)

Some 40-60 titles will be available on FXNow at one given time, and they will not be available to any SVOD service. FXNow will also have recent episodes of FX and FXX original series.

Appearing at the Variety Entertainment and Technology Summit on Monday, Chuck Saftler, president of program strategy and COO of FX Networks, said cablers have to adapt to the changing times by providing audiences access to a nonlinear TV-viewing experience.

“We’ve got to understand that viewers sometimes are going to want things live and they’re going to want to lean back,” said Saftler. “And sometimes they’re going to want to engage and lean forward and be able to get the programs they want when they want them, and that’s where the app is.”

Saftler said FX approached cable operators to offer them exclusive, nonlinear, authenticated content. Because consumers can access FXNow only with a cable subscription, he said distributors were onboard for the venture. “Right now, we’re in it with the distributor, and by being fully authenticated, by saying the only way you’re going to get that content is to pay your cable bill or your satellite bill,” he said.

Despite the app’s implications for a future free from distributors, Saftler said maintaining FX Networks’ relationship with multichannel video programming distributors is crucial. “Ultimately, the MVPDs help us fund the enormous amount of programming that we’re making, and we want to keep that ecosystem healthy because it ultimately puts a lot of people to work and gives people a lot of choice in their entertainment,” he said.

FXNow would be available only to subs who can authenticate their subscriptions to cable, satellite and telco services, but that’s a pretty wide swath of viewers considering FX in particular is broadly penetrated across U.S. homes.

One big tradeoff: While FXNow is free with your subscription, its movies will still be interrupted by commercials.

As the driving force behind FX Networks’ acquisitions strategy, Saftler has long been building a stockpile of top theatrical titles through a range of expensive deals with studios including Universal, Sony and Paramount. However, it wasn’t quite clear until now exactly why considering most of FX’s basic-cable competitors concentrated more on acquiring episodic series, which are thought to be a stickier attraction for encouraging habitual viewing.

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