Gina Brogi has been working for Twentieth Century Fox Television Distribution for nearly two decades, first as director of finance for the television distribution division and currently as president of global distribution. The division has 11 offices around the world. There are thousands of television shows and movies in the company’s vast library. This includes a diverse range of product, from network series This Is Us and 9-1-1 and animated fare such as The Simpsons to the cable franchise American Crime Story and premium content such as Homeland, as well as feature films Logan, Hidden Figures and Alien: Covenant. Brogi talks to World Screen about the growing complexities and opportunities in the international distribution business.
WS: What are some of your considerations when you look to maximize the exposure and revenues of a given show?
BROGI: It depends on the series and the market. Our goal is to partner with broadcasters that will get behind our shows and work with us to market them in the best way possible. We are always looking to get as much exposure as we can for our series so that they launch properly in each individual market. Historically, we have tried to start with a free-to-air broadcaster where appropriate, but of course, that doesn’t work for every single show, so our sales team has found creative ways to get the right exposure for our series and maximize revenue in this ever-changing, complex environment. That could mean bringing a new model to a market like offering all windows to a multiplatform operator, or adapting to an existing market strategy like servicing basic-cable television and then going to a free-to-air buyer.
WS: Of your more recent shows, which are resonating internationally?
BROGI: I would say that 9-1-1 is performing the best this season. It is probably our biggest, most broadly distributed and widely accepted new television series globally. It’s the procedural that everybody wants, and our clients are excited about it. It’s doing exceptionally well in the U.S.—the number one new drama of the season on FOX—and we are quite proud of it. We also have The Resident performing for us internationally as another highly anticipated procedural. The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story is now launching in various territories, and it’s also doing well. It’s a thrilling, frightening and compelling show that is beautifully shot and very special.
WS: Broadcast networks usually want procedurals, while serialized shows are best placed on SVOD or pay TV. Do you continue to see that?
BROGI: Generally, the longstanding rules tend to apply—procedurals do well on broadcast networks, and serialized shows tend to do better on SVOD or basic outlets where it’s possible to binge or just go back and catch up. But now, more and more free-to-air broadcasters have that capability. We’ve had great success with our shows on the BBC. They’ve licensed The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story and are really happy with it, and that is in part because the combination of their iPlayer and linear network allows them to maximize the show and what it has to offer.
WS: In the U.S., critics were skeptical about The Orville as a one-hour show, but creator Seth MacFarlane added humor to it, and nonetheless, the audience loved it. How has it been received internationally?
BROGI: As humans, there’s such a desire to categorize everything. If it’s a one-hour show, it’s a drama. Dramas are then either procedurals or serialized. If it’s a half-hour, it’s a comedy. When you start to amalgamate everything, it throws people off. Rather than embracing something that challenges the norms, it’s so much easier to question it. In this case, with The Orville, it just works, and we can’t put rules around it. We experience the same thing with our FX half-hours because there aren’t jokes every couple of minutes—these shows break the mold of what we traditionally consider a half-hour comedy.
WS: Has The Orville started rolling out internationally yet?
BROGI: Yes, it has. It’s doing especially well in Canada, and while it’s only just started airing, it’s doing well on ProSieben in Germany, which is a tough market. As you mentioned, there was skepticism overall with The Orville, but it is working, and it’s really gratifying.
WS: Comedies tend to travel less well than dramas because comedic sensibilities are tied to a culture or a language. Are you finding that to be changing?
BROGI: It’s very difficult—as you say—to translate comedy, especially for non-English-speaking territories. There are comedies that do break through, but traditionally it’s harder for them to break through to a big, broad audience. We see more success with our comedies on digital channels and certainly on SVOD services, but we also continue to see enormous success with our half-hour animated shows: The Simpsons, of course, and then Family Guy and Bob’s Burgers.
WS: Everyone loves complex characters and dark dramas. Because of the political climate we live in and so much bad news, are buyers beginning to say they’d like something a little lighter?
BROGI: I don’t know that we’ve necessarily heard that from buyers. What we’ve seen, both in the U.S. and internationally, is that some of the shows that are resonating most are those where escapism exists or where maybe good triumphs over evil. For example, series like The Gifted, The Resident or 9-1-1, where people get saved at the end. Or even with The Orville, where there’s a moral message. So yes, audiences are showing up for this type of less complex, less dark fare. That’s not to say that thematically dark shows don’t do well, but that the lighter and happier fare, where the good guy wins, is probably more broadly appealing now than it’s ever been.
WS: This Is Us has performed so well in the U.S. Does the success of a show in the U.S. have meaning to buyers outside the U.S.?
BROGI: It absolutely does. In fact, we’re seeing more and more that buyers are waiting to see how well shows perform in the U.S. before making a commitment. So it’s enormously helpful—in fact, to a large degree, necessary—for a show to do well in the U.S. in order to attract the attention of some of our international buyers.
WS: What are the main issues with stacking rights? Is it just a matter of buyers paying enough for the rights they want, or are there additional considerations?
BROGI: There are many, many considerations. Certainly, fiscal responsibility is a very important factor and also impacts what our plans are in a particular territory. Every single situation is different; every market is different. With more broadcasters now having on-demand capability, their audiences are becoming more used to watching series in that way. However, we are seeing that for procedurals the stacking rights are less important, which makes sense given the nature of procedurals. We are also seeing that clients are more willing to pay for stacking for serialized programming so they can grow an audience over the span of a season. They understand that if viewers happen to come in on episode six, and they haven’t seen the first five episodes, they likely will not watch the show. The ability to stack creates marketing and programming value. I like and agree with what Hulu has done in the U.S. with The Handmaid’s Tale, where when they roll out the new season, they don’t put it all up at once. If you put all the episodes up at once, the show doesn’t become part of the conversation. Whereas if you roll it out so that everybody’s on the same episode at the same time, you get a little more of a watercooler effect.
As content lovers and as people who create content, we want people to savor the episode and have a conversation about it before going on to the next one. When an entire season goes up on a service, people talk about it, but they don’t really dissect it and talk about it the way that they would with, say, This Is Us. It is so interesting to see that the SVOD programmers are really taking a page out of traditional television programming.
WS: Are you developing more sophisticated software to keep track of all the windowing?
BROGI: Our systems are constantly evolving. It’s one of the things about our division that I’m enormously proud of. We have incredible systems that are hugely complex, but we have the expertise to run and manage them. It used to be that you would just track where the sale of a show was in a particular territory. You knew when it started and when it ended, and then you would go and do the next one. Now, you’re tracking when the on-demand utility is occurring and when the on-demand utility becomes nonexclusive. So you can immediately start to license to an SVOD buyer even though the linear might still be continuing. It used to be that we could manage an entire season at once, and now, we’re looking at different episodes, different territory combinations, languages and regions with the SVOD buyers. It’s wildly complex, and I feel it’s a part of this business that most people don’t have an appreciation for.
WS: Do negotiations take much longer than they used to because there are all these different factors to be considered?
BROGI: They do take longer, as they’re much more complicated. Again, it used to be much simpler; you were talking about a license fee and a license period. You’re not just talking about fees, licensing periods, exclusivities and territories anymore. You’re also talking about content-protection terms, usage rules, utility, what the number of concurrent streams at any given time can be, what the downloading rights are, what the consequences are and what the data requirements and reporting requirements need to be. It’s become incredibly complex, but it has also been an education for our division. And I’m pleased to say that our licensing executives have absolutely risen to the challenge. We have a team-selling approach so that we can really maximize our resources and get our deals done as quickly as possible.
WS: With all the drama being produced in so many countries, are there still certain elements that distinguish a studio show from the rest?
BROGI: That’s a great question, and it’s one that we talk about as an organization. Our heritage has always been to produce great content, and when you combine that ability with our global perspective, resources and knowledge, we are able to create global hits. We pride ourselves on our unique ability to identify, develop and nurture talent. And that’s why I think Fox can produce globally appealing television in a way that other organizations perhaps cannot.