Fox hopes to “create some precedents” with its digital plans for The Simpsons later this year when the long-running animated series will become “the face” of FXX, COO Chase Carey told analysts this morning in a call to discuss fiscal Q2 earnings. No specifics yet — but the exec says that it’s one of the reasons why Fox decided to keep the re-run rights instead of licensing to someone else. “There are times when our distribution businesses have a unique ability to take advantage of a set of rights. And The Simpsons is a perfect example.” The show will “help brand…and help drive” FXX, Carey adds, but Fox isn’t “turning it into The Simpsons Channel.” Would a similar strategy also make sense for, say, FX’s The Americans? Not necessarily, Carey says. “When you get to a one-size-fits-all [strategy], I don’t think that’s the way to go….What we’re not going to do is undersell the content” when others “see values that exceed what it’s worth to us.”
The 21st Century Fox COO has a lot at stake in preserving the pay TV bundle, and scoffs at consumers’ continuing interest in a la carte pricing. “It is a farce,” he told the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference. “People may want different bundles, but a la carte isn’t the answer…The bundle is still a great proposition for the consumer, when you compare it to the world of $5 lattes and cell phone bills.” Chase Carey concedes that pay TV networks and distributors have been too slow to offer content on the Internet. “TV Everywhere is the right path but has been poorly executed….We have to be part of the solution, not just sitting here, picking and complaining.” That will have to include developing business models for digital. “We haven’t scratched the surface.” He’s glad, though, that his company, Disney and Comcast decided not to sell Hulu. “Once we became convinced we had a shared vision for the opportunity, we moved naturally to a place …where we put the capital commitments behind it.”
Sounds like the 21st Century Fox COO either hasn’t read, or was unpersuaded by, Anita Elberse’s new book Blockbusters. The Harvard Business School professor is generating a lot of buzz in media circles with her argument that entertainment companies — including movie studios — incur less risk when they bet on a few big-budget extravaganzas than they do when they spread cash across many smaller productions. But Chase Carey had a different take today at an earnings call with analysts when he was asked whether the industrywide growth in spending on tentpole films is a mere fad or a fundamental shift in studio strategies. “The minute you start believing that there are formulas for what kinds of films to make you’re putting yourself in a corner,” he says. “You look for great films. Some will be on the high end, some on the low, and some in the middle.”
21st Century Fox execs had better pray that CBS crushes Time Warner Cable in their now week-long program carriage contract dispute. If CBS can’t win a fat increase in the fee that TWC pays to carry the network-owned stations, Showtime, and other channels, then Fox’s day-long effort Thursday to rally Wall Street’s support for its stock could look like a waste of time. Fox’s business plan is based on its faith that pay TV providers — and perhaps their customers — will keep paying rising amounts for a bundle of channels. “People will give up food and a roof over their head before they give up television,” Fox COO Chase Carey told analysts and investors. Fox will take advantage of that addiction by creating new pay TV channels, raising prices for existing ones, and demanding higher payments for its Fox broadcast stations.
Holding on to Hulu and moving forward was all about relationships said Chase Carey today. “I think it is really a case where we’ve always known the importance of these digital platforms and the opportunity specifically in Hulu. I think the real question is partnerships are complicated and can we get the right strategy that we both believe we can execute to be successful,” said the 21st Century Fox COO Tuesday about working with co-owners Disney and Comcast. Carey was speaking on a conference call Tuesday after the company released its Q4 results. He was joined by Deputy COO James Murdoch and CFO John Nallen. “As we went through this process we really found that of all the constituencies coalesced around a vision of how to really build this and how it can be something exciting for content owners and something exciting for the digital marketplace,” he added. After weeks of speculation that Hulu would be sold, 21st Century Fox, Disney and Comcast announced on July 12 that they would keep the company and supply $750 million to push it’s growth.
It isn’t the kind of thing a network exec wants to admit the week before broadcasters open the upfront ad sales season. But the News Corp COO, in a quarterly call with analysts, couldn’t avoid the fact that this season’s ratings declines show “it’s not been a great year for the broadcast business overall from a creative perspective.” Carey says it’s time for networks to “discard a few habits and rules and take some shots. Hopefully next week will be the beginning of that process.” While he didn’t offer specifics, he says one possibility is to “be a bit more targeted [in programming] and invest deeper—take fewer bets and bet deeper.” Carey acknowledged that as digital video becomes more popular “there’s no question there’ll be more and more choices and people will find those choices.” But the exec says he still has faith in broadcasting — as long as it can collect revenues from subscriptions as well as ad sales. He declined to offer more insight into his recent threat to make Fox a pay TV service if the courts jeopardize the dual revenue stream model. Some analysts say that could happen if justices agree that streaming service Aereo can distribute local over-the-air signals without paying broadcasters. “If that dual revenue stream is not available, there are other paths we can pursue,” Carey says. He adds that the “most exciting” opportunity for Hulu is to focus on boosting subscriptions. Broadcasters can add “original and other unique product” and “take advantage of its leadership position in the digital space.”
BREAKING…This would be a nuclear option for News Corp, which owns 27 TV stations and serves dozens of affiliates. But the company COO’s threat to take Fox off the public airwaves — made today at the NAB annual confab in Las Vegas — suggests how deeply concerned broadcast moguls are about the possibility that they might lose their legal battle against Aereo, and how much that could undermine their ability to extract retransmission consent fees from cable and satellite providers. Aereo uses tiny antennas to capture broadcasters’ over-the-air signals which it then streams to local subscribers. It does so without TV stations’ permission, and without paying them a dime. Broadcasters say that violates their copyrights. But last week a U.S. Appeals Court rejected the industry’s plea to shutter Aereo during the trial over that claim. What’s more, it seemed to favor Aereo’s counterargument that it simply rents antennas, enabling customers to watch transmissions already available to them for free.
If Aereo prevails — and cable and satellite companies decide that they, too, can retransmit broadcast signals for free — then Carey says “We have no choice but to develop business solutions that ensure we continue to remain in the driver’s seat of our own destiny. One option could be converting the Fox broadcast network to a pay channel, which we would do in collaboration with both our content partners and affiliates.” News Corp-owned stations collected about $308M in retransmission consent fees last year, SNL Kagan estimates. That’s up 20% vs 2011 and accounted for about 19% of their total revenues.
The COO’s comment at the Goldman Sachs Annual Communicopia Conference should enable American Idol’s producers to breathe a little easier. Chase Carey publicly warned the show last February that it needed “fresh energy” as it slogged through …
Rupert Murdoch was the one taking the bows last week when News Corp announced its intention to split into two entities: one housing its vibrant entertainment assets and another with its older publishing ones. But COO Chase Carey is getting much of the glory in the eyes of shareholders, even though he’ll keep the No. 2 job at the entertainment unit where Murdoch will be CEO and chairman; Murdoch also will be chairman of the publishing company, with a CEO to be named later. News Corp shares have jumped 12% in the week since the news first broke. That’s at least partly due to the perception that the arrangement will shift power from Murdoch to Carey. “In a perfect world we would have liked to see Chase Carey in the CEO role and Rupert move up to the chairman role,” a senior fund manager at Invesco — News Corp’s third-biggest investor — says today in the UK paper The Telegraph. Kevin Holt adds that “Chase Carey’s involvement in this company is very important to our ownership.”
Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes and News Corp COO Chase Carey took the message to The Cable Show this morning, urging attendees to jump on the Internet video bandwagon — even if it means relaxing their grip on the relationship with their customers. “We’ve just got to do it faster,” Bewkes says about TV Everywhere, the service that enables subscribers to watch TV shows on mobile devices. Carey agreed that “it should go faster,” adding that “we get too hung up on protecting the rules of the past.” That was a subtle swipe at pay TV distributors who covet their gatekeeper role. Many fear that they could lose control once subscribers begin to use an iPad or other device to access shows directly from programmers — without a need for the operator’s set top box or on-screen guide. ”We’ve got to find a way to make all of these experiences easier to use and more accessible,” Carey says. “That requires us to work together.” Bewkes agreed. “Let consumers use the interfaces they want,” he says. “You’ll still have your subscriber relationship. We can’t develop the best, world-class interfaces at the scale that a distribution company has. Silicon Valley, the Internet industry, is a global industry and that’s what they do. We should harness that….Don’t try to hold that back. Consumers won’t allow it.”