FremantleMedia CEO: "Drastic" Changes Are Coming to TV

Fremantle CEO Cecile Frotz-Coutaz - P 2015
Courtesy of FremantleMedia

Cecile Frot-Coutaz tells a London conference about the importance of being in the scripted content space and having a global footprint.

Cecile Frot-Coutaz, global CEO of Idol and X Factor producer FremantleMedia, on Tuesday told an industry conference in London that changes in TV viewing behavior, particularly in the U.S., are happening quickly, and discussed how the company has increasingly moved into the digital space.

Citing double-digit ratings drops for U.S. cable and broadcast networks in recent months, she told the Financial Times Digital Media 2015 conference: "It feels, more than ever, that the change is happening quicker and in a more drastic way."

She cited the fragmentation of media consumption and increased viewing of content on new devices and technology platforms. The consequences for broadcast and cable networks, especially in the U.S., would be "pretty drastic," the executive said.

Still, Frot-Coutaz also highlighted that while the market is segmenting, live shows or big talent shows that are big events "can still draw big audiences." She said "you can still aggregate big audiences around big brands."

But content producers like Fremantle also need to make lower-cost content these days, which is "a different eco-system," for which different infrastructure is needed. Since you can't ask the same people working on big talent and event shows to produce such content, this is "quite hard" to do, she said.

Discussing the global growth in scripted TV content, the Fremantle CEO said it was "absolutely critical" to be in that space, citing scripted shows' "shelf life" and "channel-defining" qualities.

Asked about her interest in further acquisitions, Frot-Coutaz said that "buying for the sake of buying over the long-term is not going to yield a lot of dividends," adding that "pure size is actually a detriment to creativity." But she said that increased financial scale and global reach help content businesses. Having a global footprint is "absolutely critical," she said, adding that Fremantle would be looking to expand beyond its current markets.

Questioned about interesting markets to expand into, she first mentioned the Middle East, saying, "that's an area we are looking at." Frot-Coutaz also said that the company was looking to broaden its presence in Asia and Latin America.

Much of the discussion on Tuesday focused on Fremantle's growing digital business and how she and her team are approaching it. "We think of our [digital] business in different buckets," Frot-Coutaz told the conference. One contains digital extensions of the big traditional talent and similar shows, which are designed to engage the big community of fans. Sponsors increasingly want to know that there is a Facebook or other social media activation that they can also tap into, she explained.

The second bucket is the business of selling traditional content to SVOD platforms, such as Netflix and Amazon, Frot-Coutaz said.

The third is the part that "everybody is wrestling with today" in the traditional production space. That is short-form video content on or around YouTube, she explained.

The Fremantle CEO said that the company actually embraced YouTube "before anybody else" as a Britain's Got Talent clip featuring Susan Boyle went viral.

In terms of original short-form video, Fremantle has, among other things, partnered on food content with Vice Media over the past year. "It’s been successful," Frot-Coutaz said about the venture. "We're looking to globalize it." While Fremantle has the content production capabilities, Vice has the infrastructure to do the rest, she said. in the U.S. a lot of film talent is moving to television. 

Bertelsmann's RTL Group owns Fremantle.

Twitter: @georgszalai

April 29, 3:15 a.m. Updated to make clear the company thinks of its digital, rather than its overall business, as consisting of three buckets.