The future of Foxtel in 2016

Foxtel’s executive director of television Brian Walsh talks strategy and programming for 2016

• Premium drama, local LifeStyle & returning hit series

By James Manning

Foxtel confirmed to the market last week it will continue to focus on local drama with new investment, a raft of new lifestyle programming and a commitment to return all its hit series.

Foxtel’s executive director of television Brian Walsh told Mediaweek Foxtel used to compete with FTA channels to secure good drama content. “In 2015 the FTA networks are moving away from drama and there are new players in the market like Netflix. With 20 years of experience under our belt and the team we have, we have identified the shows and the dramas our audiences crave. We have stitched up exclusivity with distributors like HBO, AMC and BBC. In 2015 there are 400 dramas being made in the US. That compares to 200 around 10 years ago. It doesn’t mean it will all be great drama, but it means you have to identify the quality shows that people are prepared to pay for. We recognise we have subscribers who will only buy Foxtel if they see a value proposition. I feel the content we have for 2016 lives up to the expectations of our customers.”

Walsh downplayed any extra links to Network Ten via content deals now that Foxtel will be proceeding with its stake in the FTA broadcaster following regulatory approval.

The businesses are very separate. It’s not a content play. It’s a strategic decision that works well for our commercial sales arm MCN. I am in the business of promoting and ensuring Foxtel is a success so any decisions we make in that space will all be about whether it is good for Foxtel, irrespective of the partner.”

As to the continued success of one of Foxtel’s flagships, FOX8, Walsh reiterated their strategy of staying focused on the younger demographic. “The window of opportunity we saw was all the emerging series hits from The CW Network and we decided six months ago that was the audience we were going to target for FOX8. A lot of the successful shows that sit on The CW are comic book heroes – shows like The Flash and Arrow.

“Over this summer you will also see Supergirl and Legends Of Tomorrow. It is important in subscription TV that channels stick to their guns in terms of who they are appealing to and what the programming offering is. It’s about the name on the tin – if you are watching FOX8 you should know exactly what to expect. That is true of all the channels on the platform.”

Walsh said Foxtel is always reviewing the channel lineup. “We closed Bio because that was happening all around the world. The group that produces Bio is about to launch Viceland based on the Vice website. That is something we may look at for next year.

Foxtel has been looking with interest at the niche channels 9Life and Food Network at SBS which launch this month, noting Nine and SBS have seen the success Foxtel has with its lifestyle and food brands. “I’m surprised it has taken them so long,” noted Walsh about the launches. “LifeStyle has been a hero brand for Foxtel. I wish the new channels the best of luck and competition is a healthy thing for the Australian consumer.”

“The facts are some of the programming on 9Life will be five years old. They have been promoting Real Housewives. If you want to see what the women looked like before Botox you could go back and look at that show.” Walsh said because of social media, to stay relevant a broadcaster needs to offer the programs to audiences as they are broadcast globally. “Audiences are demanding shows they can watch with the rest of the world.

“Food is also a popular genre, but again Australians want to see local productions.”

The Foxtel content chief said he thought the future of television is going to see more fragmentation. “The future will include apps, but will also include the sit-back experience we enjoy today, the mobility that Foxtel customers enjoy with Foxtel Go. The industry is evolving very quickly with a lot more personalisation and a lot more portability. We are looking at all forms of delivery.

We are seeing a big shift in how audiences are consuming content and Foxtel is very much in that space.

Image by Mark Rogers: [L-R]: Paul Murray, Shaynna Blaze, Barry Hall, Donna Hay, Stenmark twins (rear), Benedict Samuel, Anna Torv, Sigrid Thornton, Jackie Gillies, David Speers, Danielle Cormack, Cheyenne Tozzi, Braith Anasta, Marcus Graham, Marta Dusseldorp, Dan Ewing, Abby Earl, Danny Clayton and Susie McLean.

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