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FX’s John Landgraf on Hulu, the Disney Bundle and ‘Shogun’

Disney CEO Bob Iger, on the company’s earnings call after the close Tuesday, opened up about the possibility of FX creating an original for Hulu that would then find a secondary home on FX. That distribution and windowing strategy is still being hammered out, and there is no target date for solidifying those plans, but FX Networks and FX Productions chairman John Landgraf told Variety that he “would be surprised if, by the time we’re back here in January for the next TCA, we had not, by that point, been able to be much more specific.”

“One possibility that’s been thought of is the prospect that FX could make FX shows that premiere in their first window on Hulu and come to FX in their second window — not all FX shows, but some FX shows, could follow that pattern,” he said.

With FX under Disney’s umbrella post-merger, the niche premium cabler now finds itself part of a massive parent company. Even as it shuttered its FX Plus streaming service in July — a move that Landgraf indicated is “directly related to the fact that there’s a much larger ambition” — FX shows will soon be available through Disney-controlled streamer Hulu.

“If we were a linear channel that didn’t have a pathway into a major streaming platform that was going to be accessed by a significant number of people, I would feel really concerned about the future,” he said.

But that is not the case; in fact, with Iger’s announcement Tuesday that the company will be bundling Disney Plus, Hulu and ESPN Plus, FX’s programming will be a part of a formidable package, offered at $12.99 a month.

“However it is that they decide to have FX’s brand be a part of that, it’s going to be much more broadly and ubiquitously distributed than it ever would be as a single standalone brand. So essentially, we embrace that,” he said.

By the end of 2019, there will be a projected 520 scripted programs airing across television platforms, a 5% increase from the prior year, said Landgraf on stage at the Television Critics Assn. summer press tour on Tuesday.

And with Hulu’s original content team and its originals chief Craig Erwich now under the oversight of Disney Television Studios and ABC Entertainment head Dana Walden, there is now an even larger ladder of decision makers that will have to figure out which shows are best-suited for the various networks.

“I think it helps my team, and Craig Erwich and Dana and I and Peter [Rice] to figure out with those platforms, what’s the best, most efficient way to allocate focus and investment and how to make stuff that’s really going to help make those platforms incredibly compelling consumer propositions,” Landgraf said. “So Hulu will still have an original programming brand and FX will have an original programming brand. They’re already quite a bit different from each other, and we’ll have to figure how they can exist in a really complementary way.”

Landgraf remains committed to FX’s “curated” programming strategy, which now encompasses about 15 series. Even as the network increases its output of original programming, he said on stage during his TCA presentation that the network would remain “measured” in its approach. (“Shogun,” the limited series based on the James Clavell novel, remains in development but the network will likely have new announcements to make on the series in the coming months.)

Referring to Facebook’s old motto, he said that “for some, ‘move fast and break things’ seems like a good strategy. For FX, making as much programming as we can, as fast as we can, has never worked. That’s just not our philosophy.”

“We don’t ignore ratings or the prospect of commercial success, but I just always have been interested in a broader set of filters to put a show through than only what anyone would want to watch,” he later told Variety.

And a fellow premium television brand that he mentioned both on stage and off Tuesday was not one inside Disney’s vast empire, but one that has become the anchor of a competitor’s upcoming streaming service, WarnerMedia’s HBO Max.

“I find the letters, H, B, and O more valuable than they were 10 years ago,” said Landgraf, calling the premium cabler’s programming “uniformly excellent.”

“It just helps me cut through the morass, the clutter of everything, and I don’t watch, nor would I want to watch, every single thing they make, but virtually everything they make is good,” he continued. “And for me personally, I’m finding that more valuable than ever to figure out how to navigate through all the choices that I have at any given moment in time — and that’s what FX has been trying to to as well, been trying to stand up and define itself and to stand for something that a consumer would find valuable as a navigational tool in a sea of choice.”

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