November 15, 2013 9:00am PT by Lesley Goldberg
FXX Lands 'The Simpsons' in Record Off-Network Deal
Following a multiple network bidding war, FXX has become the exclusive cable home for The Simpsons.
The upstart network has secured cable, VOD and non-linear rights to the longest-running comedy series in history, the network announced on Friday. As part of the pact -- said to be the biggest off-network deal ever -- FXX will become the cable destination for all seasons of 20th Century Fox TV's The Simpsons starting in August 2014. The deal covers 24 seasons -- a whopping 530 episodes -- as well as subsequent seasons not in the first-run on Fox of the series from Gracie Films Productions and executive producers James L. Brooks, Matt Groening and Al Jean.
The deal will mark the first time the series will air on cable. When The Simpsons first sold into broadcast syndication in the early 1990s, TV stations demanded exclusivity from cable for the run of the series in part because they were hesitant about an animated show’s ability to perform in a landscape heavy on live-action repeats. It’s not entirely clear what has changed in those broadcast deals to allow the FXX pact to happen.
FXNOW, FX Networks' forthcoming mobile application for authenticated subscribers, will be the exclusive non-linear home for all seasons of the animated comedy about Springfield's most dysfunctional family. FXX and FXNOW will get subsequent seasons of the series as new ones begin their first run on Fox. The cabler will have access to the current 25th run of the series starting in September 2014 -- when the already announced 26th season makes its debut on Fox.
"We believe we'll get both reach and frequency from The Simpsons," FX COO Chuck Saftler told The Hollywood Reporter of the potential gains Simpsons repeats will bring his newly launched network. In fact, for FXX, which bowed in September, the deal comes as the comedy-heavy network, with a focus on adults 18-34, continues to add programming. The Simpsons will join a roster of original programming that includes the fourth and final season of Wilfred as well as comedies It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and The League. (The network canceled little-watched late-night talk show Totally Biased With W. Kamau Bell earlier this week.) He added: “Frequency tends to come from acquired series, where if you're a fan of that show, you'll come back multiple times. It's a way to create sampling for original programming to other programming we'll have on FXX. I couldn't think of a deeper, richer, broader way to create awareness, sampling and breadth for FXX."
Details on how frequently FXX will air The Simpsons have not yet been announced, but Saftler says more information about how the show will be deployed on FXNOW will be unveiled during a Dec. 3 news conference in New York. "Getting the non-linear rights is unprecedented. To be able to strategically offer The Simpsons both linearly and non-linearly helps us future-proof this deal. It helps us be able to acknowledge how viewers want programming today and to build our brand both linear and non-linearly," he continued. "It's an unprecedented right, and the all-in on the deal was a very high price tag. We bought considerable rights and we basically created some new paradigms out of this."
The deal comes four months after news leaked that studio 20th Century Fox TV would be shopping the off-network syndication rights to The Simpsons. At the time, News Corp.-owned FX and FXX -- as well as Turner-owned TBS, Viacom's Comedy Central, TV Land, Nick at Nite and Spike were all expected to be among the suitors. The series was expected to fetch as much as $1.5 million per half-hour, generating an additional $1 billion or so to the show's already lucrative business -- which includes toys, video games, apparel and more. (At one point in 2011, News Corp.'s Chase Carey said the company was mulling an entire channel devoted to nothing but The Simpsons as it looked to create additional revenue streams for the show.)
Financial terms of the FXX and FXNOW deal were not immediately available, though the network is billing the The Simpsons pact as the "biggest off-network deal in TV history." A per-episode rate on the deal might be more challenging to estimate considering the pact includes future seasons of the series on top of its non-linear rights.
"There will never be another deal of this size because I don't think there will be another property that will achieve this many episodes," explained Saftler, who negotiated the deal for FXX and FX Networks along with Chris Antola, senior vp strategic programming at FX Networks. "When I started at FX 20 years ago, The Simpsons was on my hit list as a show that was targeted that would be perfect for FX. It took 20 years of patience to get a deal done for it, but 20 years later, I got a deal done for it."
In a joint statement, 20th Century Fox TV Chairmen Dana Walden and Gary Newman stressed the significance of the show as well as the deal: "The Simpsons long ago crossed over from 'brilliant award-winning comedy series' to 'full-fledged cultural phenomenon,' and this landmark deal is a testament to its enduring power and relevance."