First Mover: David Wertheimer

Fox's new digital chief wants to harness social media's power for viewers and advertisers

New gig President, digital, Fox Broadcasting Company
Old gig CEO, Entertainment Technology Center, USC

So you’re Fox’s digital guru. Shouldn’t that make you want to step up your Twitter game? I mean, 39 tweets?
Obviously, I spend a huge amount of time working with our team on what we want to do with social media. But it’s not about me—it’s about getting people to engage on another level with the shows, the characters and the network itself. I think putting myself in the center of the conversation would take something away from how I think about my job. But I do monitor my feed very closely. It’s like listening in on a great watercooler conversation.

How do platforms like Twitter change the rules of the linear TV game?
Viewers fundamentally want to have a more social experience around television, they want to react to what they’re watching in real time and share their thoughts with their friends. The more conversation there is around the shows, the more people will want to watch live TV.

As was the case with American Idol, which was an inherently social show even before the advent of Twitter. So the allure of watching live is being part of a national conversation?
It’s no accident that we’re No. 1 on the social media network. And a big part of our strategic thinking is devising new ways to engage people at the time of a show’s airing. We set social TV records with the American Idol finale this year, and now even some of our scripted series, like New Girl, have moments that people just want to talk about as they are happening.

And advertisers are obviously very interested in trying to harness the power of social.
We have this platform that continues to allow advertisers to reach massive amounts of consumers, but now people are interacting with our content in real time. And that mix of reach and engagement offers tremendous value to the advertising community.

In a sense, the social media interaction has replaced the family viewing that was the norm in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s.
People have been telling each other stories for as long as they’ve had a shared language. Television is just an extension of that impulse. But something fundamentally human has been lost, and that’s the social experience. There is an innately human desire to connect with one another, and our job is to figure out how to enable that connection, no matter what the platform may be.

You have the résumé of a genuine propeller head. Can you write code?
Oh, sure. I started programming computers when I was 10, working in Basic, Fortran, Cobol, and I can program as many as 14 languages now. Knowing how to program and sort of understand the tech at the core helps you understand that just about anything is possible.

And writing code brought you to work with people like Steve Jobs and Larry Ellison. What was the most important thing you learned from Jobs?
Steve had a phenomenal ability to stay focused on the fundamentals. The key is to recognize what’s important and be able to do away with everything that isn’t.

Other than the Fox prime-time lineup, what shows are staples of your TV diet?
I love Game of Thrones. I watched the first season and really enjoyed it, but I have to admit that more than once I had absolutely no idea what the heck was going on. So during the second season, I watched the entire thing on my iPad, and always on-demand. And they did everything we’ve been talking about here with ancillary content that was designed to help me get more out of the show. And because of that, I felt much more connected to the story and the characters.