Fox Inks Partnership With YouTube’s WIGS Channel

Female-friendly platform to serve as broadcast incubator

Fox on Tuesday announced it has entered into a multiyear pact with YouTube’s female-centric drama channel WIGS.

One of the 100 or so original content channels launched by YouTube a year ago, WIGS offers broadcast-quality dramatic fare designed to appeal to female viewers. Last summer, the channel premiered a number of new series, including the 12-part Julia Stiles vehicle Blue and Neil LaBute’s Denise.

In the first week that WIGS made Blue available, the channel drew 3.51 million views.

While terms of Fox’s investment in WIGS were not disclosed, the arrangement will find the broadcaster sharing the load on the programming, marketing, ad sales and distribution fronts (Google won't say whether it has continued to fund Wigs; the company is said to have elected to further invest in 30 to 40 percent of the original 100 channels). Fox essentially will leverage WIGS as a sort of content incubator, developing stand-alone series for its own digital outlets and, quite possibly, the prime-time roster.

“Our overarching goal is to create an ecosystem where creative people and ideas can find expression independently in the online environment but benefit from the resources that the larger platform of the network affords,” said Fox entertainment chairman Kevin Reilly, by way of announcing the deal. “[WIGS has] spent a year building a novel production process and a vibrant alternative pipeline, and we’re excited to help them take those tremendous stories and talent and develop them into long-term digital or on-air assets.”

Working closely with Fox will be WIGS co-founders and filmmakers Rodrigo Garcia (Albert Nobbs, HBO’s Big Love) and Jon Avnet (Black Swan, Fried Green Tomatoes). Since launching last May, WIGS has established itself as the top destination for original drama on YouTube, racking up 22 million views to date and more than 100,000 subscribers.

While Fox seems to function as a boys’ club on Sunday nights, it actually boasts some of the highest-rated series among women 18-49. Season to date, the two-hour American Idol is beating all comers, averaging a 6.7 in the demo on Wednesday nights. The new killer thriller The Following is also doing surprisingly well with women under 50, averaging a 3.4 rating in its first three episodes.

The Fox-WIGS pact comes as broadcasters continue to try to look for an alternative to the insanely expensive tradition of pilot season. Two years ago at a Hollywood Radio and Television Society event, Reilly said the headlong pace of lining up talent and projects in time for the upfront and the estimated annual cost of $500 million in script and pilot investments had left a bad taste in his mouth.

“The fact that we’re in lockstep and choreographed from the same dance backing up from the upfront is stupid, highly inefficient, wasteful and not good for anyone in this room,” Reilly told the luncheon audience gathered at the Beverly Hilton.

Fox has committed to eight comedy and eight drama pilots in advance of the 2013-14 broadcast season.

In conjunction with the WIGS announcement, Fox on Tuesday said it has reorganized its programming team, upping James Oh to svp, current programming and naming Shana Waterman svp, event series and multiplatform programming.

In his new role, Oh will oversee all of Fox’s existing scripted series, a roster that includes New Girl, The Following, The Simpsons, Glee, Bones and The Mindy Project. He reports to Fox chief operating officer Joe Earley.

Oh steps in for the departing evp, current programming Marcy Ross.

Meanwhile, Waterman will commission and develop long-form event series for Fox under the broadcaster’s joint initiative with cable sibling FX. Moreover, she will oversee Fox’s new multiplatform content initiatives, including WIGS, Animation Domination High-Def (ADHD), and a new series of short-form, multicam comedies set to launch this summer. She will report to Reilly.