Jason Thorp, managing director of FX UK, helped bring smash hit dramas such as The Wire, Generation Kill, Dexter and now True Blood to British screens. He says that being a pay TV brand, the main focus isn’t on the ad dollars, but on the quality of content.
Thorp explains, “A lot of key drama in the UK tends to be from the BBC or ITV, or even some on Channel 4, but the remit there tends to be the commercial model and getting bums on seats as possible.
“With FX, and especially for the shows that we are championing, we tend to focus on delivering premium content on a basic-pay model. So have a totally different remit that is more about satisfying viewer perceptions on the platform and making sure that people are happy in terms of paying a premium for a service and that tends to be more about quality of the experience. The model puts a lot less onus on the producers and writers to be downright commercial.”
With the downsizing of British drama productions the terrestrial channels are clambering after FX led shows. US drama is still on the up and FX is about to run Dexter season 3 and True Blood before anyone else.
The Wire proved such a success for the channel that it has now been bought by BBC2, five years after FX brought it to our screens.
True Blood is the latest upcoming drama for the pay TV channel. Thorp says that the show, from HBO, is the biggest hit since Sopranos and Sex and the City and is expecting big success. But to him, success isn’t just about mass audiences.
He said, “Not being a terrestrial station means that we don’t rely on people watching a show at a specified time. We take into account audience numbers that may watch the shows on playback or at a catch-up time later in the schedule or on VOD. That takes the pressure off for advertising dollars.”
The key driver for FX commercially is sponsorship, according to Thorp. Being a pay model, 60 to 70 per cent of the channel’s revenues come from subscriber fees, so there’s far less onus on the business model to drive huge viewing numbers. Thorp says this allows the channel to be more focused on customer satisfaction.
“If you’re an ITV or Virgin 1 and your model is purely based on commercial success then you’ve got to be getting audiences in excess of one million before a show is deemed a big hit,” Thorp explains.
“For us, something like The Wire, which may only have around 150,000 viewers but in terms of the perception and the press and overall success of the show, that’s a good figure for us.”
Essentially, Thorp is aiming to position the FX channel as the place to watch the cult US drama first.
“Quality of audience is one thing,” he says, “What we’ve done on FX since we started in January 2004, we’ve gradually been bringing consistent volume of quality drama and comedy so attracting advertisers is about proving yourself on two things. One being able to deliver high quality great profile that tends to attract the young ABC1 male target demo that will please most and secondly, bringing in the volume of audiences.
“As much as we have shows like The Wire, that have pure ABC1 audience might not have a huge amount of audience numbers, but then we have shows like Dexter which attract ABC1’s but deliver huge amounts of numbers. So it’s really about striking the right balance.
As the way consumers watch TV begins to change with the likes of VOD and the internet, broadcasters are having to look to alternative routes to keep up and increase revues.
One way in which FX is looking to stay ahead of the game is by producing its own content. The channel recently launched comedy sketch show No Signal, it’s first 100 per cent commission show.
“It’s quiet a challenge for us to take a different approach,” says Thorp, “But it has been a great success for us and its already starting to sell worldwide for us in both the format and the British version.
“Being a pay-TV model we are looking to have more ownership of rights so we are starting to produce a lot more of our own content and finance content. That way we bring more value to our paying customers a swell as having producing rights.”
Consumers are getting content too cheaply at the moment, according to Thorp. Some channels have been guilty of giving away too much for free, especially over the internet and if TV continues down that route, the content will become of a lesser quality.
The only model that allows writers and director to have more of a creative licence without having to following audience numbers
Thorp explains, “The only way forward for really high quality content is the pay model – people will pay for quality. And the way the ad market is at the moment, it doesn’t look like it can support that which is why we’re in the space of being very pro-pay TV model, and we get much better high end content because of it.”
In terms of the ad market, its absolutely disastrous at the moment. Most broadcasters a re slashing jobs and cutting budgets to the point where they may lose some of their flagship shows. What’s the solution? Thorp says the biggest advantage of being a pay TV model is that a chunk of its revenues comes from people paying for its content.
“The bigger channels are looking to the internet to make up for the shortfall but I don’t think that that’s there yet. We’re lucky enough to have enough decent content in the pipeline and being part of Sky and Virgin, people are still paying for these services so it’s making it easier. Pay TV is definitely the place to be at the moment,” he concludes.
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