FOX Entertainment Global’s Fernando Szew

Buyers from across the globe are heading back to the FOX lot this weekend as FOX Entertainment Global hosts its first-ever L.A. Screenings event. The new unit of FOX Entertainment was unveiled following its acquisition of MarVista Entertainment, marking the company’s return to the international distribution business. Led by MarVista founder Fernando Szew as CEO, FOX Entertainment Global will be showcasing to the assembled buyers a slate of comedies and TV movies while also reminding its clients that as an independent operator that doesn’t have an SVOD service to prioritize, it is open for partnerships across the globe. Szew talks to World Screen about FOX Entertainment Global’s positioning in the landscape today.

WS: Let’s go back a bit; why was the sale of MarVista Entertainment to FOX Entertainment important for you and the company
SZEW: It was the right moment for the evolution of MarVista. We found a great platform for us to catapult our further growth. I’m incredibly proud of the business we built at MarVista, how we completed the transaction and who we were able to complete the transaction with. Now that we are 18 months into it, I’m most proud of how well we’ve integrated into the FOX ecosystem. It was a transaction that allowed me, as the principal of MarVista, to bring along every single team member and, from there, create further opportunities for our growth as a business unit within FOX Entertainment and widen the lens and the tent. It’s been an incredible journey. Businesses evolve. MarVista was an independent that started with no capital and was able to find a strong niche in the marketplace and stay relevant and profitable for close to 20 years, pivoting along the way but always staying true to our core values and our essence of how I formed it with my partners at the time and then as I took the sole leadership role myself.

WS: You touched on this at your MIPCOM keynote: being open for business internationally. Tell us about how you’re positioning the company as a partner to platforms, broadcasters and producers across the globe.
SZEW: One of the key things about being a part of FOX is that we are strong yet independent, and we’re not beholden to the paywalls and the streaming strategies of the competitive landscape [that existed] when we launched at MIPCOM. Some things have shifted in the past six-plus months, but the thesis continues to be that we need partnerships. We need to be able to collaborate with others because we cannot be fully vertically integrated into everything that we do. We come to the table with great value propositions, whether on the unscripted side, the scripted side, the animation side, on AVOD with Tubi, and the production capabilities of MarVista and the cost-effectiveness. There’s quite a lot that we bring to the table to help the puzzle of content creation and distribution. As we’re building more and more muscles here, we need to be able to amplify what we do in partnership with others. By definition, that’s the open arms that we talked about. We’re not just out there selling; we’re not just pushing our content. We are looking to collaborate. Yes, we will trade, but we’re also looking at what’s incoming from different pockets. Michael Thorn [president of scripted programming at FOX Entertainment] recently announced the pickup of Doc, which is based on an Italian format. Similarly, the work that Allison Wallach [president of unscripted programming] does at FOX Alternative Entertainment is hugely collaborative and global in scope. We talk about those things when we say we have open arms and embrace collaboration.

WS: Talk about the evolution of the TV movie market. In recent years you’ve referred to these as “made-for-platform” films rather than TV movies. How is the demand for these titles, which you had much success with at MarVista, today?
SZEW: We talked about the staying power and the relevance of MarVista; always thinking ahead. As we looked ahead, it was clear that FOX, with what they were building, including with Tubi, was a great strategic partner for our production capabilities and growth. It is clearer than ever that those easy-to-watch, easy-to-schedule, easy-to-pop-in, easy-to-have new originals—creating and curating new talent and existing talent—would be in high demand. We hyper-focused our capabilities on that early on, which is why we shifted away from the made-for-television movie. We stopped calling them that years ago. They weren’t made-for-television movies. People still call them movies of the week in some corners. Funnily enough, that kind of terminology might come back because of the way that they’re being premiered on some platforms, which is a premiere a week. But it’s very different from the monikers of the past when it was a network type of movie of the week or when TV movies were more meant for what ended up happening in the cable landscape. We knew the distribution platform was rapidly shifting, and we developed a wonderful relationship with the biggest AVOD platform in North America, Tubi.

WS: What have you learned from that relationship with Tubi about the AVOD and FAST markets, which are starting to heat up around the world?
SZEW: We’re still learning. There’s a lot to learn, and it is in its infancy. The projections of what we can learn are incredible when we have real-time data on how things are consumed, what the audience looks like and what piques the audience’s interest when they come in and out of content. I think it will help shape the evolution of what MarVista has been known for, which is to custom-make the content for the audience. We’re getting closer to a B2C type of model. Those learnings will be great because you can further super-serve audiences. We can also experiment and iterate because you’re not beholden to a time slot or a strong and narrow brand dynamic. That allows for creative freedom. It’s allowed us to be at the forefront of pushing the envelope in some of the stories that we’re telling and how we’re telling them, which is why MarVista has thrived. We’ve been progressive in finding new audiences and different types of representation in front and behind the camera.

WS: What are some of your highlights for the L.A. Screenings?
SZEW: With FOX Entertainment, we have the legacy of the wonderful history of animation that came out of this lot where I’m sitting right now and the partnership with Bento Box. We’re highlighting Krapopolis and Grimsburg. The London TV Screenings was a big deal for us; we brought in Joel McHale and showcased Animal Control, which has been very successful here on the network. We will continue to talk about the success of that show at the L.A. Screenings. We have a vast array of movies coming from the MarVista content pipeline for external parties and Tubi. They’re not all cut from the same cloth as others in the “TV movie” marketplace. We still love our partners at Hallmark and Lifetime, but this is no longer just holiday movies that look like this or thrillers that look like this. The aperture of creativity has opened up, and I’m proud to say that our creative team is at the forefront of that.

WS: It is a challenging time now, from the writers’ strike to potential recession, the war in Europe and the cost-of-living crisis. What are you focusing on as you navigate the company through an uncertain landscape?
SZEW: The culture of MarVista, which we’re very much transferring and translating into FOX Entertainment Global, has always been one of adaptability. Change is inevitable, and there is always uncertainty. Sometimes you can see it beforehand, and sometimes you cannot. The whole world learned that lesson because of the pandemic. We all were able to adapt. It does not make it less scary, but at least once you have those muscles organizationally, you resort back to them. Discipline was inherent in the actual modeling and launching of FOX Entertainment Global. We wanted to make sure that we were doing something adaptable, disciplined and with all the growth potential possible. But we’re not getting ahead of our skis. With the short-term things coming at us, we have all the contingency planning in place. If there are going to be prolonged long-term radical shifts or a major recession, we’ll have to adapt to that environment as well.

WS: Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about FOX Entertainment Global’s plans for the L.A. Screenings?
SZEW: We’re excited that we’re going to be welcoming people back to the FOX lot for our event here and showcasing what it is that we are building. We just rebuilt New York Street on the lot and will showcase it to buyers worldwide. We’re excited about the possibilities of what we, as creators within this system, can do in partnership with others. It’s a welcoming of those open arms to say, It’s not just our house and our toys. Let’s go and play together.