Fox Television CEOs on Competitiveness of U.S. Market, Reaching Out to International

CANNES – “Risk has been the thing that we have embraced most in our company,” said Dana Walden, who is chairman and CEO of Fox Television Group alongside Gary Newman. The partners, who were honoured as Personalities of the Year at TV market Mipcom in Cannes Wednesday, oversee hit shows like “Empire,” “Homeland” and “Modern Family.”

“We learned a long time ago that playing it safe is not a winning strategy,” Walden said. “It’s not going to deliver us with a library of content that stands out.” She added that a Fox show “has to be loud, it has to be bold, it has to be distinctive.”

Talking about the show creators that they often work with, such as Seth MacFarlane, Howard Gordon, Ryan Murphy or Chris Carter, Walden said: “Typically when they come in to pitch us they’ll pitch something that makes you feel mildly stressed out. Where you think this could be a disastrous idea or it could be a big hit, and you have to embrace that feeling. You have to just put aside any anxieties and any desires to stay in the middle, and push content as far as possible.” She cited “Ally McBeal,” “Glee,” “24” and “The X-Files” as examples. “We have been rewarded for being risk-takers,” she added.

Speaking about how the American market had evolved, Walden said: “It is radically evolving, it seems like it is changing every day. It is so competitive.”

She said that about 135 scripted shows are slated to air across the U.S. networks this fall, and 400 throughout the year, up from about 115 five years ago.

“When Gary and I first started running the studio 16 years ago we were primarily selling to the four broadcast networks, and now we have 38 shows across 13 different platforms,” she said. “So the number of buyers has increased dramatically, the output of content from our company has changed dramatically.”

She added: “It has gotten harder in many ways: the bar is very high. It used to be that you could have a show that was a mid-range performer, and it could still be a very good piece of business, and that is no longer the case. This is a hit-driven business.”

Newman spoke about how the way a show’s performance is judged has changed. “It’s an interesting time because with on-demand viewing the decisions aren’t quite as easy as they used to be. You can have a live same-day number that makes you feel pretty nauseous the next morning only to discover three days later or seven days later or even 30 days later that a lot of people ended up coming to watch that show. If you believe in the show you have to give it an opportunity to connect with the audience.”

Speaking about the international market, Newman said: “I started coming to this market in the mid-90s and learned very quickly that we have a pretty insular view of the TV business back in Los Angeles. And we began taking into account what clients were telling us here about what works in their markets to impact our development.” He added: “But one thing that I learned very early is that great shows work all over the world.”

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