Fox 2021 Upfront Executive Press Conference Call

FOXMonday FOX held their annual upfronts for the 2021-2022 primetime season, though of course this year, it was completely virtual. As per usual, they held a press conference call for the media with the heads of FOX before the event so journalists could ask some questions. You can find the official press release and schedule that was announced as part of the upfronts in a previous post, as well as the trailers and new series photos. Below is the transcript of the conference call.

FOX ENTERTAINMENT GROUP: FOX 2021 Executive Press Conference Call
May 17, 2021/1:30 p.m. CDT

Charlie Collier - CEO, FOX Entertainment
Marianne Gambelli – President, Advertising Sales, FOX
Michael Thorn - President, Entertainment, FOX Entertainment
Rob Wade – President, Alternative Entertainment & Specials, FOX Entertainment
Farhad Massoudi - CEO and Founder, Tubi
Dan Harrison – EVP, Program Planning and Content Strategy, FOX Entertainment
Jean Guerin – EVP, Corporate Communications & Publicity, FOX Entertainment

MODERATOR: Joining us today to talk about the 2021 and ’22 season are Charlie Collier, CEO, FOX Entertainment; Marianne Gambelli, President of Advertising Sales, FOX; Michael Thorn, President, FOX Entertainment; Rob Wade, President, Alternative and Specials, FOX Entertainment.  We also have Farhad Massoudi, CEO and Founder of Tubi, and Dan Harrison, EVP of Program Planning and Content Strategy, FOX Entertainment.

With that, I’m going to hand it over to Charlie, who, prior to opening up to Q&A, he’ll walk through our FOX Entertainment strategy and fall schedule.

CHARLIE COLLIER: Thanks, Jean, and good morning, everyone.  I’ll go off the record to start.  I know you’re really busy, and we’re not going to just [indiscernible] up front with this, but off the record, we bought Discovery this morning, and we’re going to announce it after the upfront.

So, now back on the record, before I begin, I hope everyone’s doing really well.  It’s been, not even trite to say, an unbelievable year, and I’m really happy to be speaking with all of you in person again.  And I hope we’re in person sometime soon, in the truest sense of the word, back at the beacon.  It’s hard to believe it was more than a year ago when the world was shut down back in March of 2020.  FOX immediately went to work to produce TV’s first living room concert hosted by Sir Elton John.  And if you remember, it was Sir Elton John from his kitchen.  It featured Billy Eilish and Backstreet Boys, Demi Lovato and more.  And for us, that was a truly moving and confidence-inspiring moment, at a time when I think a lot of people really needed it.

And then over the summer and under the strictest of protocols, Rob’s team really just dove in and they produced a new series, I CAN SEE YOUR VOICE, as well as a new season of THE MASKED SINGER.  And all this is to say that when the pandemic hit last year, we pivoted quickly, and under extraordinary conditions we kept building.  Our FOX structure, as a nimble and more agile entertainment company, really enabled us to adapt and innovate under the circumstances.  The pandemic, in many ways, gave us the chance to build on our strategic strengths, fortifying our operations, and creating new business models.

So, for example, throughout our development process this season, we were able to pivot to work with creators in ways we hadn’t before, capitalizing on the extra time during the lockdown.  We opened things like virtual writer’s rooms to refine, polish, and shape multiple scripted series in numerous ways across numerous projects, and we did so with care and attention, and some terrific rooms that probably wouldn’t have been the case, if not for the pandemic.

At the same time, we were broadening our broadcast model with the acquisition of our AVoD streaming service, Tubi.  As you heard from Jean, Farhad’s on the call.  That was back in April.  And like FOX, we’re so pleased to say Tubi is free.  There are no paywalls, no subscriptions, and it’s an example of our commitment to, especially in the upfront context, commitment to our advertising partners.

And so, as FOX focuses on going broad in its programming, Tubi goes deep, and we announced, I think you heard, 140-plus hours of original programming next season to speak to viewers’ passions.  I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention Bento Box, which is our animation company.  They’ve also thrived growing our wholly-owned businesses for FOX, but also well beyond FOX, and they’re launching new businesses, like the NFT and Blockchain companies we’ll be announcing today.

In a much more traditional sense, FOX is on track to win the season again.  We have the number one new entertainment series, the number one new comedy, the number one new unscripted show, actually the number one entertainment series overall in THE MASKED SINGER.  We got there with a strategy that I really laid out two years ago at the Beacon Theatre, which was about putting the biggest night of American sports next to the best of entertainment night after night.

Another part of that strategy was taking our strongest shows and building new programming off the strength of those existing shows.  And no surprise, we’re deploying that strategy once again using the 9-1-1 franchise, both 9-1-1 and 9-1-1 LONE STAR; but, of course, THE MASKED SINGER, THE RESIDENT, and some of our biggest sporting events to help launch new dramas.  You’ve probably heard or read about most of them, but including THE BIG LEAP, OUR KIND OF PEOPLE, MONARCH, THE CLEANING LADY, and new comedies, PIVOTING, KRAPOPOLIS, and WELCOME TO FLATCH.

There’s also new unscripted series, ALTER EGO and NEXT LEVEL CHEF, among quite a few others.

So, look, we believe in entertainment that reflects the culture.  For example, our new shows have themes that speak to hope and second chances and reinvention.  We believe people want to watch shows that give voice and value to those who have often been left out or gone unheard.  And FOX is known for putting shows on like that that you wouldn’t find anywhere else, and the lineup we’re announcing today continues to build upon that legacy.

At its best, broadcast can connect millions of people across the country doing the same thing at the same time, all tuned in to programming that pierces popular culture and brings us closer together. 

Michael Thorn is to my right, FOX’s Head of Scripted Entertainment, and Rob Wade, fresh off his second vaccination shot, is FOX’s President of Alternative Programming.  They’re both here with us, and they can certainly talk about those themes and expand upon them.  I will take the opportunity to say they’ve done just an amazing job to take advantage of the unusual time that’s been presented to us, working largely virtually with our creators to refine and plan for the future of these shows, and so many more you’re about to hear about.

Jean mentioned that also with us is my partner in crime and FOX EVP of Program Planning and Content Strategy, Dan Harrison.  So, if you have any schedule questions or other, please fire away.  And Farhad Massoudi, as I said, our CEO and Founder, and just a great fast friend and partner from Tubi is here as well; as is the most important person in New York, Marianne Gambelli, who obviously runs all of our ad sales efforts.

So, look, we’re looking forward to great and continued success next season, as we build what we call the FOX Entertainment of the Future.  We’re working with some of the industry’s top talent and creators.  That’s what drives us.  And we’re continuing to build the company on a platform, a content-focused, and an audience-first basis. 

And with that, please, why don’t we open the call for questions.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, everybody.  You guys ordered a lot more new series than you did at this point last year, which I know, in part, was due to the pandemic and everything.  I’m curious also, though, if you’re sort of building up the library in anticipation of not having football in a year’s time.

CHARLIE COLLIER: I’ll start, and then, Michael, I don’t know if you want to join.  This is Charlie, Rick.  Good to hear from you.  Thanks for the question.  We very much were focused on developing year-round, and doing some of the things I just mentioned in my opening remarks, which is really trying to build on the legacy of some of our stronger franchises, and then build complementary, both scripted and unscripted, on top of that.

But, no, of course we knew that Thursday Night Football would not be returning before we announced it, but we’ve been very much focused on this year, and then doing our traditional development for next year.  And as we’ve been focused on that Thursday night specifically, which you asked about in the second part of your question, there’s nothing to announce today, but we’ve very much been working on trying to bring urgency and spectacle to a night like that, just knowing in advance that we have so much time to plan.

MICHAEL THORN: Yes, and as part of all-year-round development strategy, I know you’ve heard us talk about this, but we don’t believe there’s a one-size-fits-all process for development.  So, just to give a recent pickup example, our new series ACCUSED is for ’22-’23, and the best way we believe—when I say we, I mean FOX and Sony and Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa—believe to set that show up for success is to really get ahead of it in the scripts, and really take our time to kind of cast this unique crime anthology series.

And so, we’re getting ahead of it for the next season, and we believe this kind of all-year-round strategy allows us to continue to be in business with people like Howard and Alex, or Lee Daniels and some of the other people that we’ve just announced pickups with.  It leads into our nimbleness, we believe.

[Technical difficulties cause a delay]

QUESTION: Wow.  Hi, everyone.  Thanks for taking my question.  I appreciate it.  I really just wanted to ask, given how the world’s changing, what percentage of your viewing do you think [indiscernible] Tubi of your new programming this year?  And maybe even from Marianne, what percentage of ad sales will you be aiming at Tubi, do you expect to have from Tubi this year?

CHARLIE COLLIER: Thanks so much for the question.  We are really focused on—and especially today with announcing the FOX schedule, and for anything that’s FOX owned, you will see it appear on Tubi the way you do THE MASKED SINGER and Gordon Ramsay shows, and that sort of stuff.  On the other hand, the original programming for Tubi, the 140-plus hours we talked about, obviously, that is solely for Tubi and directly to Tubi, based on the data and audience information we have there.

Marianne, I don’t know if you want to jump in on the ad sales side—

MARIANNE GAMBELLI: Sure.  I mean, we are looking at Tubi as the perfect broadcast extension to our FOX linear products.  It extends audience to younger, more diverse audiences, obviously like TV viewers.  So, while I don’t have exact percentages for you, Brian, it’s a big focus of ours to match the growth of the audience in this space, and I think the shift that we’re going to see of dollars to support AVoD, given the comfort [ph] that people have gotten and the great results they’re seeing on the platform.

We do expect it to be a big part of how we go to market.  It’s a perfect extension for what we sell. 

CHARLIE COLLIER: I’d say similar to that, we see, so often, where we’re promoting something on the network for its network premieres, the like-minded shows and the similar series back seasons start to perform even better on Tubi.  So, it’s pretty remarkable how easily the viewers adapt to going broad with us, and then going deep with Tubi.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask about THE MASKED DANCERI didn’t see it anywhere.  Normally I would expect to see will wait until midseason, so this makes me wonder what we’re doing with it.  Is it summer?  Is it something that you just want to plug in where you need it?  What are your thoughts?  I don’t want to get ahead of myself and assume that you have a spot for it.

ROB WADE: Yes.  So, obviously, we’re really happy with THE MASKED DANCER Thought it was a great show.  Currently, we are just figuring out where it fits into our “Masked” strategy.  As you saw, we’ve announced the singer for the fall, and really we’re just looking to see where and when that will play best at the moment.  MASKED DANCER, as well, we filmed kind of right in the middle of the pandemic.  It was in October time, and we took a lot of lessons from it. 

We have some really nice ideas should there be a Season Two, and we’re figuring out when and where that might be.

QUESTION: Thanks so much for doing this, even through all the technical difficulty.  Even now, as upfront week is beginning, it’s being overshadowed a little bit by this news about the AT&T and Discovery deal that seems to be centered on streaming.  And it just strikes me that you guys at FOX almost seem to be the antithesis of what the media industry is focused on, which is big streaming companies, like Netflix and Disney, and a turn away from broadcasting.

So, how do you guys make the argument to the industry and to the public that a network like FOX is still relevant, and the smaller scale stuff that you’re doing since the sale of assets to Disney is the future of television, from your perspective?  How do you make that case?

CHARLIE COLLIER: Well, first of all, thanks for the question.  Good to hear from you.  I should lead by saying we’re in this space deliberately, and it’s been a strategic choice, if you think about, you mentioned the big guys.  It’s been well-documented.  I think [indiscernible] said it recently on one of his conference calls, that it was seeing that Disney, the combination of the 20th assets with Disney would allow them to compete in this space, and would allow us to construct a more nimble and focused company.  And the choice was to focus on free and ad-supported. 

So far, I’ll say it in the context, because today’s upfront day, in the context of broadcasting, we’re going to be the number one network on the key demo for the second year in a row.  It happened quickly, and I believe because we were focused on.  And then, obviously, Tubi, as ad-supported, free streaming service, puts [audio drops] space, but again, focused on what makes us special, which is free and ad-supported.

And so, you look at what we do best, I talk about the strategy a lot, which is the best of live sports, next to the best of entertainment, and we think we can have both cultural [indiscernible] live events, and pierce popular culture with our original programming in meaningful ways.

I also will point out that a phrase we’re fond of is that you can’t corner the market on creativity.  And if you look at the incredible creative minds that we’re working with on both sides of the camera, if you look at who’s attracted to our platforms as the place to bring their passion projects, obviously we’ve brought Lee Daniels back to the network.  We have Dan Harmon joining with his next animated series.  We feel like we are a place where everyone knows we’re focused on elevating their work, not in bulk, but doing fewer things better, and combining, is pretty great to have a startup mentality and the Super Bowl and World Series.  That’s been our strength, and it’s going to continue to be. 

And now with Tubi, I think we’re powered for both breadth and network leadership.

QUESTION: Charlie, this is a much smaller scale question here.  So far, you’ve been going with 9-1-1 and 9-1-1 LONE STAR together on Mondays.  Now, you don’t say it specifically, but I’m kind of guessing that you’re going to have 9-1-1 on Mondays, and then after that you’re going to have 9-1-1 LONE STAR later on in the year in the same time slot, so you can springboard other shows after it.

But kind of talk a little bit about that.  First of all, would you plan on running 9-1-1 all the way through, and then go to LONE STAR, or would you stop for a while and go?  And second of all, why do you like this approach better, to make the 9:00 open for new shows?

CHARLIE COLLIER: Well, I’ll start, and then to my left on your radio dial is Dan Harrison, and he can add to it, because we obviously place a lot of emphasis on our schedule.

To start with, we think the Ryan Murphy, Tim Minear shows are two of the most exciting broadcast offerings out there, and they are powerful together and apart.  This year’s schedule, we get the best of both of those.  One of the things you mentioned, and it’s an insightful question, is that we are eliminating what we sometimes refer to as the bridge, but basically, you’re right.  We’re going to run right from 9-1-1 into 9-1-1: LONE STAR, and we’ll take advantage of, obviously, in the fall, the World Series, and in the, as we get into the football season, the NFL and then the NFL playoffs. 

So, there are just amazing opportunities to keep the 9-1-1 franchise vibrant throughout the year with far fewer weeks without originals in them.

Dan, you want to go from there?

DAN HARRISON: Yes.  Thank you, Charlie.  We build nights, and having a night where we can launch new drama assets that will be with us for hopefully seasons to come was an important priority when we constructed the fall schedule.  Monday night is a night of drama; Tuesday, drama; Wednesday, reality.  We have our Sunday animation franchise, but creating room to hopefully produce a long-running asset for the network with a BIG LEAP in the fall, meant that we needed to find a place for LONE STARAnd we only have 18 episodes of both series.  So, we thought that we had constructed a clever way to both maximize the power of the 9-1-1 franchise, and create new assets that would be with us.

QUESTION: Actually, circle back to 9-1-1 and LONE STAR, I did want to ask if this will limit the potential to do another crossover episode, because having them back-to-back [indiscernible] this time around.  Do you have any ideas on that and what you might give Tim the ability to do since they won’t be airing back-to-back?

CHARLIE COLLIER: It’s a great question.  This is Charlie, and then I’ll turn it over to Michael.  But like I said, in this schedule, which, obviously, we don’t just look at the fall, but we look all the way through the season, we, as Dan said, are taking advantage of using the 8:00 slot to really lead 9-1-1 into 9-1-1: LONE STAR, and then after football season, they’ll be back-to-back again from 8:00 to 10:00 on Mondays. 

Michael, you want to add to the question?

MICHAEL THORN: You know our bag of tricks.  While we’re using those to launch new shows, as Charlie and Dan said, it will still be almost half of the schedule will be paired in a really powerful block in the second half, which, as Charlie said, it’s a win-win.  But somewhere as we’re bringing the show back, keep an eye out for—spoiler alert, keep an eye out for a crossover in the back half of the season.

CHARLIE COLLIER: It’ll be about disaster of a phone call, where it drops off in the middle of an upfront phone call.  You’ll love it.

QUESTION: Thank you so much for taking my call.  I really appreciate the renewals today.  Along those lines, I’m wondering with Morris Chestnut on both THE RESIDENT and the new show, is that going to continue, and was that a recent, like a determining factor for why those two shows are paired together?

MICHAEL THORN: [Audio muffled].  It’s certainly a nice benefit.  We’re thrilled to have Morris on both shows.  We’re really excited about OUR KIND OF PEOPLE, and just announcing Morris is one of the leads in that, along with Yaya DaCosta.  We think it’s going to be an incredible cast from incredible creators with Karin [Gist] and Lee [Daniels]. 

And to your point about having Morris in both shows, schedules permitting, we do hope to keep Morris’ character in THE RESIDENT.  His storyline is terrific.  THE RESIDENT is a big broad show for us.  We’re really proud of it, and we think it’s a great pairing with OUR KIND OF PEOPLE in the fall, and our country music drama MONARCH in spring.

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