Fox Upfront: Paying for Delayed Viewing, the Absence of 'Idol' and 3 More Takeaways
Kevin Reilly is just as fond of "eventizing" as Bob Greenblatt — and even as live and limited efforts fill up the schedule, the push for dynamic ad insertion to reap the benefits of time-shifting and multiple platforms remains priority No. 1.
Fox may not have had the best season this year, flat with 2012-13 despite the benefit of airing the Super Bowl, but entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly made no mention of setbacks during Monday's upfront presentation at New York's Beacon Theatre. Instead, he drove home the same message throughout his several appearances onstage: up or down, Fox is the youngest of the Big Four.
"We have been and still are America's next-generation network," Reilly said. "We have the most youthful audience at scale."
That audience, which includes viewers across multiple (equally emphasized) platforms, is the only one to actually have an average age that falls within the all-important adults 18-49 demographic. Reilly's emphasis on this younger crowd permeated a presentation that introduced new programs -- Gotham, Red Band Society, Mulaney and more -- but also focused heavily on Fox's sports programming and its quest to get ad dollars outside of just broadcast. (DVR was mentioned, but not as much as VOD.) Utopia and a slew of events and event series also got a lot of stage time, all while American Idol remained conspicuously absent from the conversation.
Here are the big takeaways.
1. Fox Loves Events Too
"Eventizing" might be the word of the day. After NBC's Bob Greenblatt dropped the term at NBC's morning presentation, Reilly put it up on the screen for everyone to see. And while TV "events" until now have come in a variety of durations, ranging from specials to short-run but ongoing series, the Fox chief did not mince words about his being fixed and finite. Dramas Gracepoint and Wayward Pines are both "closed-ended," assured Reilly, saying viewers would be satisfied with conclusions regardless of the projects' respective futures. One-offs are also a priority. Reilly made a big point of emphasizing upcoming specials including the Pitbull-hosted New Year's countdown, a second stab at the Snake River Canyon motorcycle jump and, of course, the 2015 live telecast of the Grease musical.
2. Utopia is Getting the Red-Carpet Treatment -- and Product Placement
When Fox snapped up the rights to John de Mol's social experiment series in January, there were a lot of unknowns as to how the yearlong reality show would be delivered to viewers. It's now clear that the network will give it a big push. After announcing it will occupy two hours on the fall schedule, Reilly called it the "most sought-after" new reality project and revealed that a companion app will screen live events from the isolated compound 24/7 for an entire year. And just because the premise has the cast of 15 starting a society "from scratch" does not mean there aren't opportunities for product placement. Reilly said details on "in-show integration" would come soon.
3. The NFL on Fox is More Valuable than the NFL Anywhere Else
Sports is the last ratings sure thing in an increasingly fragmented and on-demand universe. So it's little wonder that it is playing an increasingly central role in the networks' upfront presentations. Fox Sports president and COO Eric Shanks regaled buyers with impressive statistics: The company's sports programming reaches more than 68 million viewers a week, the Sunday afternoon NFL games are No. 1 with women, and recently launched cable spinoff Fox Sports 1 beats ESPN in "brand recall" -- which sounded entirely dubious given's ESPN's dominance in cable sports. "We have become bigger, younger and more affluent since launching Fox Sports 1 and 2," Shanks said. "We believe we have the strongest brand in all of sports." And with CBS Sports getting an early-season Thursday night package next season, the NFL schedule has become increasingly competitive. And Shanks, like NBC Sports chief Mark Lazarus, stressed the quality of the network's NFL games, which he said boast "enormous depth and high-quality match-ups." "There isn't a stronger match-up on any network, any week no matter what you hear," Shanks said.
4. We Want to Get Paid for More Delayed Viewing
Ad sales president Toby Byrne talked up the network's leadership status in "dynamic ad insertion" in 75 percent of its VOD programming -- something Brooklyn Nine-Nine star Andy Samberg satirically referred to as "entertainment network electronic media asset strategy" or ENEMAS. But seriously, Byrne implored, "We need to have a meaningful discussion about C7 [commercial ratings over seven days of delayed viewing]." That will be a tough sell for buyers, in part because ads lose value over time but also because they are now getting any residual eyeballs beyond three days of delayed viewing for free. Even so, Byrne promised that the network is developing "insights about changing consumer behavior" that will "add value to [buyers'] investment."
5. American Idol? Oh Yeah, That's Still On
Fox's former keystone barely got a breath from Reilly. Though he positioned his network at the top of the unscripted race -- Fox has seven of the top 20 reality shows across all of TV -- American Idol only had one brief mention during the entire hourlong presentation. After saying that the show would be trimmed and tweaked for its upcoming 14th season during a call with reporters earlier Monday, the only Idol news buyers got out of the entertainment chief is that he's partnering it with the musical Empire come midseason. It still has a place at the table, but it's not getting much attention today at all.