Hernan Lopez

This interview originally appeared in the MIPTV 2015 issue of World Screen.

FOX International Channels (FIC) recently consolidated all of its 126 FOX channels outside of the U.S. under a single unified brand positioning and network package. The move underscores the importance of branding in today’s increasingly fragmented media environment. Indeed, one of FIC’s major focuses as of late has been on strengthening the awareness of its channels in the global marketplace. Part of this strategy includes promoting massive day-and-date global launch events, which it has done for the megahit The Walking Dead and will do for the highly anticipated psychological thriller Wayward Pines. Hernan Lopez, the president and CEO of FIC, tells World Screen about his company’s strategy for being viewers’ first destination for the best content.

WS: What led to the global rebrand of FOX?
LOPEZ: There is an opportunity here to create the biggest quality entertainment brand in the world. I know that sounds like a big statement, but let me back it up. FOX has always been a broad entertainment brand associated with quality in consumers’ minds. There are other entertainment brands that have parts of that positioning. For instance, Disney is very big, is associated with high quality and entertainment, but it’s targeted to children. There’s HBO, which is also a big, quality brand, but because it’s premium, the reach is narrow. Then you have newcomers such as YouTube, which has a big reach, but is not necessarily associated with quality in consumers’ minds.

So, we looked at the landscape and we realized that there was an opportunity to create the biggest quality entertainment brand in the world—comparable to what Nike did in the world of sports—to be the leader [not just] across the category, but also in the high-quality segments of the category.

WS: What’s the strategy for building brand awareness across the FIC portfolio?
LOPEZ: The whole strategy was born out of our desire to position the FOX brands in the minds of consumers as the place where they [could see] the best shows first, before anywhere else, and to do this with as many consumers as possible. Over the last three or four years, we have been combining different entertainment [services] into the FOX brand and rebranding them so that now FOX has the widest reach of any international channel group in entertainment.

We needed to come with a single brand positioning to address some of what we saw in [recent] brand surveys. First, consumers are very aware of the FOX brand, and they associate it with the qualities that we want. We found that we could still make progress in the association between the FOX brand name and the individual shows, and that’s true of all the channel brands, not just FOX. We also needed to get more people to think of FOX as the place where they would get the best shows first. We’ve done three surveys already, and in the most recent, we were number one in brand awareness, we were number one in combined brand strength, and we were number one in the “would switch” factor, which answers the very telling question, How many of you would change platforms in order to have the FOX brand? The number around the world was 35 percent, and it was 70 percent in Mexico. There were also big numbers in many other countries.

This [brand awareness] effort is starting with FOX, and we have already been doing something similar with National Geographic Channel. It’s all about creating the positioning of “The Best First,” with “Best” meaning loud, groundbreaking, unique [programming] and “First” meaning that you saw it [on FOX] before you saw it anywhere else. That’s very important because shows such as The Walking Dead, for instance, a year from now will end up on Netflix or Amazon [or another platform], depending on where we license it, or on broadcast television somewhere else. But we want consumers to always remember that they saw it on FOX first and that they saw it anywhere in the world only 24 hours after it [originally premiered].

WS: How has FIC’s day-and-date strategy reinforced this message?
LOPEZ: It is a huge part of our positioning. It’s not something we can do for every single show, because it takes a lot of work and content creators are not always keen on having multiple versions of their shows available to dubbing houses around the world ahead of the release in the U.S.

One of the most difficult things to get today in the tele­vision landscape is a sense of urgency. With so many options, so many things to watch, to convince people to watch a show now [is difficult]. When you look at the visual language of FOX, you find two things: first, a very close integration between the FOX logo and the key art of the show. The second thing you’ll find is the language of live events; you’ll find LED lights, big stages, things that make you feel like you’re watching a live concert. This helps to create a [cinematic experience].

WS: What role have original productions played in bolstering awareness for the FIC brands?
LOPEZ: A very important one. Today, we are producing original scripted drama in Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin, Turkish and English. That’s a big part of what we like to do. It’s expensive to do, because they have to look good next to shows like The Walking Dead or network shows that cost $4 million or $5 million per episode.

WS: In what markets are you looking to grow channel penetration?
LOPEZ: We’re well distributed, but there are still places [left to enter]. There’s only one big market where we’re not [present], and I don’t know if we’re going to be in it in the near future, and that’s France. Other than that, we are in every market where we would like to be, with [the exception of] a few markets. Indonesia, for example, is a huge market, and we only have 10 percent penetration.

WS: How is FIC complementing its linear channels with new digital services?
LOPEZ: FOX Play is the key brand that we use for our authenticated services. The goal is to keep the FOX brand as relevant, if not more relevant, in the on-demand space as it is in the linear space.

FOX+ is our premium service [on digital]. We have FOX Play+ in Latin America, which is an authenticated service of FOX+. It includes the entertainment shows, factual shows and sports all in one. The FOX+ service has been in the market only for a few months. In two months, net sales were higher than at any point in our history. The usage of this application has gone up four times since we introduced FOX.

WS: How important is sports for FIC in the overall portfolio?
LOPEZ: It’s hugely important. It is still considered the must-see, must-have content by many platforms. Also, as it is watched live, it brings the urgency that’s really hard to get with other types of content.

Sports also rounds out our portfolio very nicely. In the places where we have a strong sports offering, such as Latin America, Asia and the Netherlands, we have found that we have a better relationship with the affiliates and advertisers.

WS: What has been fueling the success of FIC?
LOPEZ: I think it comes down to our focus on the consumer, making our brands and content relevant to the consumer and putting them in a position where viewers really appreciate it. That appreciation drives subscriptions for our partners and clients. That passion is also translating into viewership for our advertisers.

WS: What areas of the business are you focusing on for the year ahead?
LOPEZ: Scripted original drama is one particular area of focus. Outcast [was picked up by Cinemax]. It looks great. Robert Kirkman [who created the show] is extraordinary. We’re really excited about it.