CES 2014: Fox Says Pick One: Online Hit or Broadcast Hit

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Can an online video series become a streaming smash, then move to broadcast TV and become a worldwide sensation?

It could happen, says Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, senior vice president of multi-platform programming at Fox Broadcasting, but it’s not that likely.

Van Rensselaer spoke at a 2014 International CES panel on online content. He holds a unique position, since for over a year he’s been running a Fox pilot program designed to create online hits and then migrate them to broadcast.

“The goal of what we’re doing is to get up to the major leagues of on-air,” Van Rensselaer said. Fox is using the wild west arena of online video to generate early consumer feedback on projects, creating online incubators to fix its broken pilot system. Rather than holding focus groups in malls, the broadcaster is soliciting comments online, with executives hoping to uncover strong projects and get them on air faster.

The problem that Van Rensselaer has run into is that creating an online hit is far different from creating a broadcast hit. Online viewers want a daily dose of interesting content, and it helps if that content appeals to a young male audience. That’s not the way to make a high-end scripted series. Creators trying for hits are finding they need to pick being a hit online or on-air, he said.

Amazon recently addressed the challenge in a similar way, letting online viewers vote on their favorite candidates. It was a noble experiment, Van Rensselaer said, one that challenged the notion of the executive as tastemaker, choosing what goes to broadcast. He’s not convinced that Amazon’s process was completely democratic, however, and suspects that an exec had the final say.

“It may have been a little bit of a charade,” Van Rensselaer said.

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