By Mansha Daswani
With its takeover of the former ESPN STAR Sports joint venture now complete, FOX International Channels (FIC) operates a portfolio of channels in Asia that touches on every major programming genre. At the helm of the region’s most dominant pay-TV channels group is Zubin Gandevia, recently elevated to the position of president of FIC in the Asia Pacific and the Middle East. He talks to TV Asia Pacific about FOX Sports, developing strong relationships with affiliate platforms and TV Everywhere.
TV ASIA PACIFIC: What are your major strategic priorities for FOX International Channels in Asia heading into 2014?
GANDEVIA: The top priority for us from a product point of view is sports. [The second is] ensuring that we continue to deliver massive value to our consumers and our partners, both affiliates and advertisers, on what we already do well, which is entertainment, factual and lifestyle. The third thing is local ad sales. Fourth is continuing to build this great organization and team that we have which we’re very proud of. We’re unique in that we have both global and in-market scale. We have 14 markets where we have offices with people on the ground and we’re very proud that we have been able to maintain the same great FIC spirit and culture in every office.
TV ASIA PACIFIC: What are your plans for the new addition to the portfolio, FOX Sports?
GANDEVIA:We’ve always said our mission is all about entertaining people and through entertaining them creating super-strong emotional connections, thus creating fans for our brands. Possibly no other genre of television creates emotional connections quite like sports, which truly is about passion, loyalty and emotion. From a business point of view, it allows you to be in a category that is an absolute must-have in consumers’ homes and a must-see on the screen. That allows us to be a stronger partner to our affiliates and advertisers, to give them more value and ultimately to have a much better portfolio of products for our consumers.
Our number one priority is to invest more on screen—the content, the packaging, etc. The localization of sports is also important. We’re going to have local-language commentary in all the [markets] within this year. We’ll use our global scale to get better content. FOX Sports launched in the U.S., and that’s going to give a massive lift to our brand all around the world.
TV ASIA PACIFIC: How do you cope with the escalating costs associated with acquiring the rights to flagship sporting events?
GANDEVIA: That’s a very good question, one that I’m seeking to answer myself! [Laughs] First, FIC is really good at delivering exceptional value to its customers, especially platforms. We have found an ability to deliver a very high-quality experience at a lower price and always push to deliver more for the same price. That stands us in good stead because it allows us to have a competitive edge versus others. Secondly, we have the advantage of regional scale within the Asia footprint, which most other players bidding for the same content don’t have. Cross-promotional ability and indepth, in-market boots on the ground allow us to monetize the product better. That means we can bid competitively for product. Thirdly, FIC’s scale globally allows us other advantages, especially when dealing with content partners. This was a problem for the erstwhile [ESPN STAR Sports] business, a stand-alone sports business competing with channels run by platforms who were able to treat sports as a loss leader. It’s not a standalone business anymore. It’s part of a larger network, which allows us to leverage all of these strengths, whether it’s cross promotion or the ability to package really well. In factual and entertainment, you have to work much harder to get consumers to your screen. Everyone knows when Wimbledon is on. If you have a documentary somewhere or a movie somewhere, we have to really work hard at selling it. That expertise is something that we will bring to the table.
The FIC DNA has always been about collaboration with our affiliate partners, not competing with them. Let’s take Wimbledon. During the lower rounds we get five, eight, ten feeds at the same time. Traditionally, the [ESPN STAR Sports] feeds would show one feed on one channel. We will have a network of three or four sports channels, so we will show three or four matches [at the same time]. We will be much, much more collaborative with our affiliate partners and say, Why don’t you show three or four matches on your channels? We have this great fiber delivery network, so we can give it to you for next to nothing. You show it on your channels, and suddenly the consumer is getting eight channels showing Wimbledon. You’re building Wimbledon up, you’re building the culture of watching sports up, and everybody is better off. That’s how we can add value to our affiliates, that’s how we can monetize better as well. Best of all, we’re building sports for the average consumer, which is very important.
TV ASIA PACIFIC: Tell me more about how FIC is working with affiliates to help them drive ARPU and subscriptions.
GANDEVIA: Helping affiliates get a higher share for pay TV and drive ARPU is, I would argue, the number one thing we think about from a business point of view, other than making sure that consumers love our product. We do it in a number of ways. For one, our products have to be hot. We’re being increasingly selective in what we buy, make and show. We really focus a lot on must-have product. Even within that, we focus on what I would call “live,” and by live I mean as close to production date or airdate in the U.S. as possible. That makes it more topical and reduces the possibility of piracy. We are investing a lot on screen. We’re also putting more and more energy behind what everyone calls localization. We would call it customization to the market. We are increasing the number of languages we dub in. We subtitle in every language everywhere. Five to six of our brands are now almost—and in the next 10 months will be fully— dubbed in every major language. We are starting to do more and more high-quality original content. We are investing in original production in all our genres. The other side of the equation is more to do with the platforms. We try to make sure that in every genre we have multiple brands. And we have these brands in every [subscription] pack. We have products that we make for mini basic packs through to basic to extended basic to premium. We price them accordingly. We use those very effectively to help platforms upsell. A classic example would be in the movie category. We have FOX Movies Premium in the premium pack. In some markets we’ve introduced FOX Family Movies, which is a library movie channel, it doesn’t really have first runs. We invest in it, dub it in the local language and put it in the basic pack. We use that for two things. One is inculcating the habit in consumers to keep watching Hollywood movies, and secondly, we use it as a promotional tool to push people up to buy the movie pack, including FOX Movies Premium. It’s important that we spend a lot of effort trying to work with platform partners to make them understand and appreciate why we have so many channels and why we need some of them in basic.
TV ASIA PACIFIC: How is your TV Everywhere strategy progressing with your online player, FOX Movies Play?
GANDEVIA: Very well. We’ve now launched it in the Philippines, Hong Kong, Singapore. We’re about to launch in Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, almost everywhere. There are several stages we had to go through. Number one is, we’ve moved from just having a player for FOX Movies Premium to having multiple players. Different consumers want to consume this content in different ways at different points of time. Some just want the movie player, some want the Chinese movies player, some want sports, some want just an omnibus offering where they can browse between categories—that’s something we’re developing. Also, some consumers don’t want to consume through our player because they just don’t know about it, and platforms have launched their own players. We don’t need to be protectionist at all. It goes back to the point on collaborating with platforms. We’re very happy to give our content to our platform partners to put it on their player in a branded section.
The first step was making all these players, which we’re almost done with. The second step is getting as wide distribution as possible, which is ongoing. And of course, we’re very conscious the product has to deliver. It has taken some effort and investment, but we’re thrilled that we now can show almost all of our products across all our brands on our players. We have movies from Disney and FOX and all our independent studios. We have the rights for our television shows, our Chinese movies, documentaries from National Geographic Channel, Korean productions, BabyTV, sports—almost all of the product we buy now or make, we will ensure it goes on to the player.
Original title: FOXInternational Channels' Zubin Gandevia