Exclusive Interview: Twentieth Century Fox’s Marion Edwards


PREMIUM: Marion Edwards, the president of international television at Twentieth Century Fox Television Distribution, talks to World Screen about the ever-changing, yet exciting, nature of the business she loves so much.

WS: Is the sequencing of windows for movies relatively stable compared to windows for television series?
EDWARDS: We’ve always had what I call a fairly regimented progression through the windows for film. Nowadays, the windows have shortened, but it’s still pretty much theatrical to home entertainment to pay television to free television. With pay-television content, it was always pay TV, free TV, or maybe pay TV, and in the case of HBO, nothing else, maybe DVD, maybe not. With network television content, it was always just one free-TV window, followed by other free-TV windows.  

Now, all of a sudden, you’ve got a very interesting series of opportunities and choices to make regarding how you want to window that television content, and what happens within those windows in order for you to maximize the value of the content. In addition, a combination of factors has been changing the television business. First, the value of TV series in home entertainment has been diminishing. People have understood they don’t really need or want to buy complete seasons of shows. Many people are making the transition to the non-physical world of entertainment consumption. There’s a school of thought that the SVOD business has really damaged the home-entertainment business, but, I have to tell you, I think of myself as being a pretty ordinary consumer of a lot of entertainment content, and I gave up buying complete seasons on DVD long before I discovered Netflix. It was unlikely I would ever sit down and watch 22 episodes of anything, so I moved away from that model before Netflix became an opportunity for me to watch certain kinds of shows. I’m much more of a Hulu consumer because I like to stay current with the handful of shows that I watch. Now with the various on-demand services that you get through cable or satellite, like prime-time on-demand, you can follow current shows. There is a wide variety of ways to consume shows.

Second, there are networks around the world that are looking at their broadcast window, where they invest millions of dollars in production and millions of dollars in marketing and advertising to create a major asset for somebody else. They would like to have a change, in some cases, in the rights that they license to more fully exploit the value they work to create. They’d like to have more flexibility in what they’re allowed to do with the product they acquire or produce. So, I think you’re going to see a continuing evolution of how those windows play out in terms of timing and what kind of usage is allowed within the window.

Another thing we’re seeing is that more and more broadcasters are looking at what they can offer their consumers in terms of an on-demand experience. We recently closed a deal in the U.K.: Sky, being the most advanced digital platform in the world, is offering an experience that begins with broadcast and includes catch-up and ultimately stacked episodes, which is the buzzword this year. We are seeing two versions of stacked episodes. The first of which is that you broadcast the show. It then goes up into the on-demand catch-up service and stays there until you have all the episodes of the current season available to view. All the episodes are then available for a negotiated period of time, and at the end of that period, the broadcaster has no further on-demand rights. What BSkyB has chosen to do is to offer the normal catch-up following the first telecast of all the episodes. They then take all episodes off their on-demand service, and approximately nine months after the start of the original broadcast, all the episodes are put up on-demand in a box set.

WS: So viewers can catch up before the next season starts?
EDWARDS: Yes. So those are two interesting stacked models that I think you’re going to see a lot of broadcasters looking to emulate. BSkyB has advertising breaks within that content, and they don’t charge their consumers to watch it. So for them, it’s an opportunity to create a really robust on-demand television experience and not charge for it. It’s what we call the AVOD model, the advertiser video on demand, versus the SVOD, which is subscription video on demand and is free of advertising interruptions.  

It’s a very interesting time in television and watching these models evolve is fascinating. In the U.S., FX has its own app called FXNOW. You have to be an authenticated subscriber through a service, whether it’s DIRECTV or Comcast or other services, and once you enter the app, you are able to see their content. It’s a fabulous time to be a consumer, but it’s certainly a deeply challenging time if you’re a broadcaster or a rights licensor trying to figure out how to best monetize your content.

WS: How have serialized shows been selling? I’ve been speaking to a lot of buyers and free-TV broadcasters are having a bit of a problem with them.
EDWARDS: Yes, I know they have had some problems. When you talk to Fox, you’re talking to the company that a few years back had a show called Murder One that was way before its time, and everybody understood that when they saw it. If you remember, that first season of Murder One was in fact one case. It was intriguing, it was fascinating, and people were really, really attracted to it, but it was hard to get an audience to commit to 22 episodes. We then followed it up with 24, and 24 was the series that created binge viewing. Home entertainment released 24 on DVD and people started watching it and suddenly it would be 3 o’clock in the morning! You would give up huge amounts of time, and say, One more, just one more episode! It really did create that appetite and that appreciation for how those shows are best consumed in big chunks.

The interesting thing is, that model, the serialized drama, has reached its real flowering in the 13-episode model, because people are more than happy to give you 13 weeks; they’re just not happy to commit to 22 or 24 weeks. So 13 episodes is great for the serialized-drama model, and it’s really worked well for cable to specialize in it. However, a broadcast network like FOX has started to transition to that model where they’re doing 13 episodes of Sleepy Hollow in the fall and 15 episodes of The Following in the spring. We’ll have Hieroglyph with them, which may well be 13 episodes in the fall. We’ll have Backstrom, which could very well be 22 because it’s a procedural, similar to our biggest procedural drama, Bones.

WS: Everyone is talking about Bones. I can’t tell you the number of buyers who say they love it and they want another one.
EDWARDS: I know, but when you go back to a studio and say, the number one international hit is Bones, they say, you’re kidding me! It’s not Game of Thrones? But Bones is our number one hit show, and Backstrom is very much in that style of a procedural drama. It will do incredibly well for international networks, as they still prefer those kinds of series. They like to get 22 a year as opposed to the very intense, very cool, very hip, very edgy 13 episodes. But the wonderful thing about international is that we have so many different outlets. Many of our clients are networks, but they also run digital channels. If you look at ITV, they have ITV and then ITV2 and ITV3. The BBC has BBC Three and BBC Four. They have a portfolio of channels where they can place product, so they license across different kinds of programming.

WS: And you have something for everybody, right?
EDWARDS: Boy, do we ever! [Laughs] Yes.

WS: Tyrant is another show that is coming up.
EDWARDS: Yes. Oh boy, it’s great! It’s going to air in July. We have another show called The Strain. They are both phenomenal, really interesting shows. I think that FX is doing some of the most interesting drama on television. I’m a huge fan of The Americans, too.

WS: Does the move toward straight-to-series orders as opposed to producing a pilot change the way you do business?
EDWARDS: Well you know, it’s interesting, because certainly I’ve been asked that question a lot by many clients who are concerned about what that may do to the L.A. Screenings. I think you’re going to see a variety of ways networks order series. I don’t think it’s going to ever be 100-percent straight-to-series or a return to all pilots.

If you look at what we have for the L.A. Screenings, we have Backstrom and Hieroglyph that were both ordered straight to series, but we will have first episodes for both. Then we have Empire and Babylon Fields, both of which are network pilots, and we have Rush, and Complications, which are cable pilots that have been ordered to series. So that’s potentially six one-hours, pretty much divided between pilot and direct-to-series, and I think you’re going to see that kind of mix going forward. We also have another mid-season show called Runner, which is based on a format, and has been ordered direct to series. How this all ultimately ends up playing out over time, I don’t know. I guess we’ll all watch and see.

WS: Where are you seeing growth, whether a geographic region or with certain platforms?
EDWARDS: The miracle of the international marketplace has always been that when one market is in trouble, other markets will be strong. Certainly right now many of us are having difficulty in Italy and are still having difficulty in Spain. Those are big markets that really can’t be replaced by the fact that you’re doing more business than usual in some other territory. It’s definitely a challenged universe now. The other thing that’s different—and God knows my career goes back to the Dark Ages of international free TV—but it used to be that there wasn’t so much content. And now, if you have a show that’s doing pretty well but not a hit, broadcasters have like 12 other new shows they could put on. They don’t have to keep your show on anymore. There’s been a lot of challenge in those areas, and the value of film on free TV is deeply challenged. Thank God we’ve got such good shows to offer because there is so much out in the marketplace. If you think of how much is coming out of the U.S. right now, it’s just staggering. Then on top of it, how much people are producing locally. I think that’s the bigger challenge. So, it’s tough. I’ve been very fortunate, because when you’re at a studio, the world does seem to be a bit easier because you are able to be in business with people with a lot of different kinds of content.

WS: Another challenge must be the shorter series. There must be an impact if you have 13 episodes to sell instead of 22 or 24.
EDWARDS: It does impact you economically, and it also means in some cases that channels won’t air the first season until they have the second season in hand. And if there is no second season, it’s pretty tough.

WS: In America now the trend is to really put the showrunner or writer in the driver’s seat, and they prefer 13 episodes to 22. It’s the old battle of art against commerce, right?
EDWARDS: Yes. The other big thing that’s changed is that even the artists now who are creating the content understand the value of the international marketplace. It used to be everyone would think you were speaking Swahili if you even said the word international, and now they all understand it, and they all value it. They all understand the contribution and the necessity of having their shows translate outside the U.S. One of the shows, just as a funny aside, that we’ve had a really interesting ride with is Sons of Anarchy. It’s a fantastic show, very Shakespearean, an incredibly big drama with wonderful roles for women. It really is a very interesting program, but it’s very tough to find people who will air it, because it’s also very violent. So, again, you’ve got some fabulous stuff out there but boy… and look at Broadchurch, I used to sit around and talk about American shows, but Jesus, there are some great shows coming the opposite way, too. TV is just great. I have a daughter who’s 26 and is leaving her studio job, not at Fox, to work for a producer who’s producing ten episodes of very gritty drama for DIRECTV, and you think how great it must be to be a young person working in an area that’s so rich in possibility. Look at the different kinds of content and the different stories that are being told. I think it’s an amazing time to work in television.