Fox International Channels Tightens Focus on Originals, Sports

CEO Hernan Lopez extends contract through 2016 as division ramps up content development

Hernan Lopez

Hernan Lopez has inked a new three-year contract with 21st Century Fox that will keep him prexy-CEO of Fox International Channels and National Geographic Channels International through 2016.

Lopez sits atop one of the conglom’s fastest-growing divisions that is an increasingly a star of 21st Century Fox’s earnings reports. FIC and the overseas Nat Geo group comprises more than 300 channels operating in 48 languages. Lopez, who has been with the division and its predecessors since 1997, oversees about 4,000 staffers spread across 64 offices around the world. The group is expected to generate $1 billion profit for 21st Century Fox by 2015.

FIC recently notched a distribution milestone in expanding the distribution of Fox-branded channels to more than 200 million households outside the U.S. And FIC has boosted its profile in Hollywood’s creative community in the past few years by starting to develop original scripted series for global rollouts. FIC has also been a financing and international distribution partner on shows including AMC’s “The Walking Dead” and Starz’ “Da Vinci’s Demons.”

After more than a decade of focus on growing the footprint, FIC and Nat Geo Channels are devoting more resources to marketing and developing regionally-specific original programming.
“Fox is the most widely available entertainment brand in the world. We also want to be the strongest and most popular brand in each country,”Lopez said.

Content development for FIC channels has the potential to yield properties that could make their way back to the U.S. Fox’s Latin American outlets at present are generating buzz with fantasy drama “Cumbia Ninja” about a group of idealistic young adults who use music to help improve the lives of people living in a slum. The show will eventually air on Fox’s Spanish-lingo U.S. broadcast network, MundoFox (which FIC also oversees). Lopez said the division has had inquiries for format rights from outlets in Spain and Israel.

Sports is another priority for FIC, just as it is for Fox at home. Fox Sports’ distribution overseas has grown at a gallop during the past two years to 70 million homes, up from 17 million viewers.

“Sports is central to a lot what we’re trying to do over the next two years,” Lopez said. “When you look at the strongest television network groups, they are the ones that combine strong entertainment assets with strong sport assets.”

With so many channels under one roof, the challenge for Lopez and his regional teams will be keeping on top of audience tastes in disparate markets.

“I don’t ever want size to get in the way of quality,” Lopez said. “We still have a long runway ahead of us over the next few years. We’ll be investing a lot more in original content.”