FX Networks isn’t used to having a spotlight during upfronts week, but that’s where the network finds itself today as part of new parent company Disney’s first combined upfront, which includes all the properties it recently acquired from 21st Century Fox.
“This transaction has given us a new lease of life,” FX Networks chairman John Landgraf said Tuesday morning at Disney’s upfront press conference. (While FX would warrant a brief mention during the Fox upfront, Landgraf never appeared onstage or conducted press conferences, given that FX would hold its own upfront event several weeks earlier.)
One unexpected result of the merger was that FX Networks, which had landed exclusive cable, VOD and nonlinear rights to all seasons of The Simpsons six years ago, is now sharing the series with other Disney properties.
The Simpsons was a surprise addition to the Disney+ streaming service, which rolls out Nov. 12. And today, new sister network Freeform said it will also begin airing all 30 seasons of The Simpsons, beginning in September, alongside FXX, where they will also continue to appear.
In 2013, FX Networks landed The Simpsons rights in what was believed to be the biggest off-network deal ever, worth an estimated $800 million to $1 billion over the course of the next decade.
Landgraf said today that the Simpsons deal was for nine years, and FX Networks ended up having the show exclusively for five years.
While his team built a digital home for Simpsons episodes and clips called Simpsons World that he is “really proud of,” the reality is that it was tied to the TV Everywhere authentication platform, which “is still not used by the majority of people who are customers in the MVPD system,” said Landgraf.
After Disney became its new parent company, “there was a feeling that we could radically improve the amount of usage we could get” with the non-linear rights, said Landgraf, who confirmed that the Simpsons World interface will move to Disney+ when that streaming service launches.
When asked about FX’s future as a basic cable network under Disney, or whether it might morph into an ad-free, premium network like HBO, Landgraf admitted he has dreamed of that very scenario for “many, many years,” given that he feels his networks’ shows can go toe-to-toe with the likes of HBO and Showtime.
However, “we’re grateful that the ad-supported community has supported FX Networks,” and he’s proud of the fact that the network is available in 90 million homes.
“I don’t think we intend to leave it any time soon,” said Landgraf of the basic cable space. “We like the fact that we’re not just a service for people who can afford to pay a really, really expensive subscription.”
Futhermore, Landgraf said there are no plans to discontinue either the FXX or FXM networks under Disney. “The three-channel suite has been working really, really well,” he said.
FX will remain ad-supported on linear, but the network does offer an ad-free streaming service, FX+, for current cable subscribers.
And Landgraf is excited about this morning’s news that Disney will assume full operational control over Hulu from Comcast (and could buy the streaming service outright by 2024) and what that means for FX, which Disney CEO Bob Iger has said will be supplying more content for the streaming service going forward.
“There’s a lot to be worked out” with today’s Hulu announcement, said Landgraf, but he noted that “about 40%” of Hulu subscribers use the ad-free option, and having FX content on a widely distributed platform like Hulu “really expands the dimensions of the brand and what we can do.”