Tuesday, February 10, 2015

FOX'S NEW EMPIRE BUILDING IN AFRICA: There's a whole new FOX in the hen house ... and its M-Net that's most vulnerable.

Serena and Venus are the best of friends. Sisters even. But there's one scenario under which they become relentless competitors: when they're opponents on the very same tennis court.

Up until now best of friends for nearly close to 3 decades, the tight relationship between South Africa's M-Net and FOX is dramatically shifting and changing from friend to one of being more foe due to a dramatic leveling of the playing field - one which will have seismic implications for South African viewers and pay-TV subscribers.

In short, this is what is happening and you'll see it if you look closely: FOX which never had in South Africa a TV channel like FOX, or a pay-TV platform it had a share in like Australia's FOXTEL, had a distribution channel - one through which it was too happy (as was M-Net) to sign output deals and licensing rights agreements with M-Net to show FOX programming.

It was win-win. M-Net got great content to show and FOX had great content it couldn't show but had available to give.

Then FIC brought FOX to South Africa on MultiChoice's DStv, and on On Digital Media (ODM) and StarTimes Media South Africa's StarSat (previously TopTV). 

Still it was no problem. Just like when Netflix will launch in South Africa and won't have certain content because it already gave that away under existing territory licensing rights agreements - those exclusive programming rights were still neatly sewn up by M-Net, meaning a truncated FOX channel, and still a greatly packaged M-Net. 

Everyone remained the best of friends.

Now those agreements and complex to-and-fro programming and content contracts and studio output pick-ups are lapsing and FOX, in essence through deals with itself, is grabbing and keeping its world-class, buzz worthy shows for its own TV channel(s). 

The result? Several high-quality, big buzz, ratings grabbing American TV shows which absolutely, 100%, would have been seen on M-Net (DStv 101) are now going to be seen exclusively on FOX.

There's no way that M-Net would not have wanted Empire or can ever say that a show like that doesn't matter or that it it's perfect for its own schedule. Its loss and FOX' acquisition of it is a trend which is only going to accelerate.

It's Venus versus Serena.

Fox International Channels (FIC) is on an Empire building mission globally - as well as in South Africa and across the African continent. 

Add to that global expansion plan a very specific sidenote lending further colour to FOX's ambitions in South Africa and the rest of the continent: Hannelie Bekker is back

The woman who programmed SABC3 - the closest thing South African public television ever had during its high tide a decade ago to a type of an M-Net, is now the new managing director of FOX International Channels Africa (FIC Africa).

This extremely adept, clever and accomplished TV content and programming executive is definitely going to relish the opportunity to bring better programming to FIC's channels like FOX. 

She's going to be able to help shape FOX in the future as a worthy competitor to M-Net - something which she couldn't do at SABC3 with limited resources, money, and stricter limits on foreign entertainment content.

The impact of FIC's ramped up scope and presence will soon be most keenly observed by pay-TV viewers watching specifically M-Net and specifically FOX through DStv and StarSat, as well as M-Net's remaining analogue subscribers. 

FIC is today unifying its global FOX channel - seen in 126 countries and reaching 244 million households - making it the largest entertainment channel rebrand or repositioning in the world. 

Make no mistake about it: FOX wants to dominate and is starting by uniting its brand globally with the same look everywhere you see it.

FIC wants to increase ratings and reach, and ratings only grow when people and more people are watching. People of course tune in for content and FIC is now starting to keep the good stuff for itself.

That's good news for FOX; not so good news for those who used to acquire and got FOX shows.

"This power to bring the best first is the definition of the FOX brand," says Hernan Lopez, the president and CEO of FOX International Channels.

Besides that "little" show that could, The Walking Dead on FOX (a TV drama which would have been on M-Net if ever there were one), FOX's biggest hits outside the United States include American Horror Story (seen in South Africa on M-Net Edge) and The Simpsons (M-Net and VUZU AMP).

You can literally see what used to be hairline fractures in terms of where you used to see what content, widening and shifting before your eyes.

So what's next for FOX? 

There's the vampire drama The Strain starting on FOX on 9 February at 20:30. Then there's the year's biggest new high-buzz drama Empire with Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson starting on 4 March at 21:00 on FOX.

The new comedy Fresh Off the Boat starts on 12 March at 20:10 and You're the Worst at 21:00. And don't forget M. Night Shyamalan supernatural new buzzy drama Wayward Pines starting on 14 May at 21:25. All of it on FOX.

Tyrant, a drama that offers an intriguing mix of family dynamics and Middle East politics will start on FOX in June. 

Backstrom, yet another new detective drama will start on 5 March at 21:20 on FOX Crime - for the very first time giving that FIC channel a must-watch reason to tune to. The procedural drama Legends with Sean Bean will also start in June.

Each and every one of these TV shows could have been, should have been M-Net shows.

"The acquisition of this large number of first-run series is a milestone for FOX and FOX Crime Africa," says Hannelie Bekker.

"Each of these shows comes with excellent credentials and offers fresh and bold entertainment. A few of them  - The Strain, Tyrant, You're the Worst and Legends - have already been renewed for further seasons," says Hannelie Bekker.

And it will soon increase. "This is part of a three year volume deal, meaning more new shows for the next three years from Twentieth Century Fox that will include four drama series and two comedies".

What does it means for South African pay-TV subscribers? 

M-Net analogue subscribers: It means that M-Net analogue subscribers are starting to lose out. 
With only one M-Net analogue channel these pay-TV subscribers they can't watch Empire, The Strain and Wayward Pines - shows that pay-TV subscribers are going to be talking about, and stars they are going to be reading about in magazines and see in popular culture.

DStv subscribers: Level and unchanged. For now. It means that DStv Premium subscribers who get the M-Net (DStv 101) and M-Net Edge (DStv 102) channels are remaining somewhat equal. 
The specific M-Net packaged channels are starting to lose a programming feeder (although M-Net did treat that Glee badly), but they will still be able to get the content on FOX and now FOX Crime further up the channel numbers. 

On a individual brand level though it is bad for M-Net. FOX is not going to "take over" or overshadow M-Net, but FOX is starting to damage M-Net.

M-Net used to be the only game in town for premium entertainment content - its name was and is basically synonymous with getting the best TV content, first. Now there's a rival. A rival quickly getting on a more and more equal footing and being available through MultiChoice.

It means that in terms of competition, FOX is now leading the charge when it comes to the strongest possible challenger as another general entertainment pay-TV channel for what used to be exclusively M-Net's domain. 

StarSat subscribers: It means that StarSat subscribers are the biggest gainers in all of this. 
FOX, also available on StarSat is fast becoming a premium TV channel, and will now bring StarSat subscribers a lot of content that's actually truly "M-Net level" content. 
FOX Crime is also available on StarSat, which means further beefed up content through that specific channel for StarSat subscribers thanks to FIC, although the signal quality - video and audio - remain awful together with signal blackouts which StarSat is doing nothing about.