EXCLUSIVE: In the final of TV Tonight‘s Programmers Wrap series, Foxtel Director of Television Brian Walsh talks about the Subscription TV highlights for 2012.
Foxtel’s year kicks off with three new channels, FOX Footy, A&E and FX and mid-year it has the London Olympics.
“For us it’s a huge year for Sport and 2012 will go down as the year that in Foxtel’s life to date is the most significant investment in Sport for us, led by the AFL contract which starts this week with the commencement of the NAB Cup, which for the first time is exclusive to Foxtel,” he said.
FOX Footy has a media launch on Thursday night in Melbourne with 300 guests including journalists, advertisers, and the AFL community. New CEO Richard Freudenstein will also give his views on the year ahead.
“For us football is a major investment and it’s no secret that for us Melbourne remains a very important market and one that we need to invest in. It’s also one that I think we continue to work very hard at ensuring our business succeeds in. We are under-penetrated in Melbourne compared to a market like Sydney and clearly the AFL investment we see as a significant measure of ensuring that we build our customer base in Australia’s second-largest city. Hence our investment in footy.”
Foxtel recently signed Eddie McGuire for sports-related broadcasts as part of a shared arrangement with Nine. Nabbing McGuire was pivotal in Foxtel’s elevation of AFL. Walsh exclusively announces a new weekly series, Eddie McGuire Tonight, to air from Global Studios, South Melbourne during the AFL season.
“He will have his own studio show called Eddie McGuire Tonight, Sunday nights at 8:30, best described as a cross between Larry King Live and The Footy Show. It will be Eddie interviewing guests related to football, asking the tough questions and his own unique style, Live to Air,” said Walsh.
“I caught up with Rove last week and we were talking about his former studios in Melbourne and that studio is being converted into the new home for FOX Footy in Melbourne. That will be where all our magazine shows will come from and Eddie McGuire Tonight will be in that studio.
“Eddie’s one of the best in the business and I’m delighted he’s part of our team.
“He’s agreed he won’t be commentating any Collingwood games which I think is probably a good thing!”
On the weekend Foxtel also announced it had signed Matty Johns to spearhead its NRL coverage.
“It’s no secret that Channel Nine were also in the chase for him but I think what got us across the line was that we could offer him something beyond just doing footy. He’s a very funny guy with comedic talent and lots of interesting ideas,” he says.
“He made it very clear that whilst he was looking to have a role as a football commentator he was also looking for an opportunity to develop some of his ideas in comedy.
“We’ve given an agreement to put in development money on a couple of ideas he’s presented to us, with a firm undertaking to take one of those to Pilot this year on the Comedy Channel.”
In April Foxtel will release details of its Olympics broadcasts.
“We’ll be broadcasting live from London and providing our subscribers 8 dedicated channels all in High Definition, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There are 312 Gold Medals awarded at the London Olympics and for the first time we will broadcast every Gold Medal event. We are the first in the world to bring every Gold Medal event to viewers, so whether you want to follow the Australians or superb athletes from other countries, Foxtel will be the only place you can see them all.
“The favourite sports like Swimming and Track get a lot of coverage and they will certainly get, I’m sure, a lot of coverage on Channel Nine. But it’s the other sports that don’t necessarily get a lot of television time that they deserve.”
Walsh recalls when Director of Sports & Olympic Games Peter Campbell recently presented plans to various sporting bodies, the Archery representatives noticed he had written down the number 5 on his presentation notes.
“The person said to Peter, ‘I see you’ve got 5, are we finally going to get 5 minutes of Archery on the Olympics?’ And his response was ‘Actually no, it’s 5 hours.’”
Foxtel will share some commentary teams with Nine but again provide its own presentation, studio hosts and anchors.
“When you’ve got so many broadcasters from around the world in some instances packed into a small area to cover an event, there’s simply not room to have as many accredited journalists as you would like.”
Foxtel launches two more channels this month. The male-skewed A&E channel offers unscripted content including Ice Road Truckers, Pawn Stars, and the locally made production from Cordell Jigsaw, Mega Truckers.
“A&E comes from our affiliate AETN in the United States, a global player in the market place with channel brands like History, Bio, Crime & Investigation. We are the first territory outside North and South America to launch the A&E brand,” he explains.
FX launches at the end of the month with US titles including Walking Dead, Justified and Hell on Wheels.
“We gave a lot of consideration as to what other channels we would add to the Foxtel suite and clearly for us FX filled a gap in the market. We felt there was an opportunity for a channel targeted to the male 25-40 year old demographic with quality-scripted Drama.”
Next week anticipated new musical drama Smash (pictured) begins on W.
“Clearly for us that’s the show that has had a lot of investment put into it by NBC and one of the biggest marketing campaigns I think for a US series in North America in some time. I think it’s had something like $25m just on the marketing alone,” says Walsh.
“For NBC to pull anything above 10 million viewers is regarded as a great success. That they got 11.5m for the first episode was a wonderful result on the back of The Voice. So the indicators are that not only will it live up to expectations, not only from the critics who unanimously have sung the show’s praises, but it looks like it’s grabbed a decent audience which we hope will hold for the 15 episodes.
“Similarly here we’ve put a major campaign behind it. We launched the Smash campaign in December and we’ve kept the messaging up across all the channels across summer. We’re now working closely with Sony Music who have the rights to the soundtrack. Like Glee, each week Smash will feature some covers and original pieces from ‘Marilyn the Musical’ which is the setting for the show.
“It’s a quality high-end drama from Steven Spielberg and the sort of show that I think is perfect for Subscription TV in Australia. But it’s one of many.
“We’ve got the best US drama with our output deal with HBO. Clearly with Mad Men from AMC which plays on Movie Network, and shows like Smash and Awake, the next NBC drama to launch in the US, I think it very much reinforces that quality Drama is at home on Foxtel.”
Also coming are Luck starring Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte, more Boardwalk Empire, The Borgias, Upstairs Downstairs and the third local series for Tangle.
“Drama for us remains rich with potential and one that we will continue to invest in quite significantly. But I will add to that the sort of Dramas we’re looking for are the ones that distinguish us. When people are subscribing they’re subscribing for a reason and we’ve got to give them shows they regard as valuable,” he insists.
“In the area of Drama it has to be shows that are bold, provocative and you wouldn’t necessarily find on Free to Air TV and that’s our mandate for Drama going forward.
“Showcase is the home of HBO in Australia with Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and I can’t wait for The Newsroom starring Jane Fonda.”
There is also good news for viewers with Showcase planning faster turnarounds of US titles.
“More and more we’ll be going day and date with the US. We simply have to for a couple of reasons: a) viewers demand it and b) piracy is an ongoing issue and challenge for all of us in the industry. I think the only way to combat piracy is for us to be on top of day and date,” Walsh says.
“I know Showcase are looking to get those big US titles on day and date this year, so expect this year that True Blood, Breaking Bad, Dexter will all go day and date.”
In the area of local Drama, Walsh confirms the end for teen series SLiDE.
“We’ve elected not to go with a second series. We thought it was a fairly brave Drama experiment and the idea was to develop a scripted piece of television that young viewers could follow online and on air. I think we probably were a bit early with that concept,” he says.
“While it found a niche with a core audience of teens they really weren’t there in the numbers that I would have liked to justify a second series.
“But we probably need to broaden out our Dramas so they do deliver the numbers and then you can start looking at how you can add the online elements to enhance the viewing. Social networking is a part of television but we’ve still got to get the storytelling right.”
But Walsh also leaves open a glimmer of hope.
“We’ll look at revisiting SLiDE probably down the track but it won’t be in 2012.”
He also hints at two new local drama projects, one as a series and the other as a short form miniseries.
“We are set to announce our next drama commission in the next couple of weeks. We’ve got a commitment to telling Australian stories and I’m very excited by two projects that we’ve decided on and we’ll announce one of them in the next few weeks.
“One of the Dramas will be a big ensemble piece, shot in Melbourne. I expect we’ll announce that in the next week or two. It will be broadcast later this year on the W Channel,” he explains.
“The other project is based on a very iconic Australian motion picture and will be a television adaptation with a contemporary storyline.
“It will be a serious piece of Drama for the Drama connoisseur.”
Then there are non-scripted highlights coming to several channels.
“Some of the productions that come out of the LifeStyle Channels are terrifically well-produced and resonate with our audiences. Selling Houses Australia is currently enjoying its fifth season. Grand Designs will go into its second season and a third is in production because it takes two years to deliver,” he says.
LifeStyle Channels will also feature Cake Boss, Beeny’s Restoration Nightmare and Location, Location Australia with Bryce Holdaway and Veronica Morgan.
Current factual series Kings Cross ER filmed in St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney, is enjoying bumper audiences.
“We’re over the moon with the success of Kings Cross ER which debuted a couple of weeks ago on the Crime and Investigation network. It’s the third-highest rating Documentary in the history of Foxtel.
“It’s a gripping piece of television that takes viewers inside one of the most unique emergency departments in the country. The success of the show has been phenomenal.”
Territory Cops filmed in Darwin, Alice Springs and various parts of the Northern Territory follows on from Kalgoorlie Cops.
“Kalgoorlie Cops has been the most successful doco on Foxtel when it screened last year and it demonstrated to us there is a huge appetite for this sort of Television,” he says.
“This time we follow the hard-working police force in the Northern Territory. I’m sure it will export well around the world.”
Other factual highlights include Discovery Channel’s Ultimate Fish with Andrew Ettinghausen, Aussie Way Up on Nat Geo Adventure and the ambitious The People Speak based on the US series created by Matt Damon and Josh Brolin.
Director Neil Armfield will oversee this series for the History Channel touching upon themes of feminism, the workers movement, immigration, the Snowy Mountain scheme, the convict era, and the Eureka Stockade.
“The People Speak assembles some of Australia’s finest actors to interpret the words that Australians have written or even shouted and cried out over the years, to tell the story of Australia.
“We will tell Australia’s story with passages of great works delivered by some of Australia’s big name stars. It will be a blue ribbon event when it goes to air later this year on the History Channel.”
Local reality shows include Dating in the Dark Australia, Australia’s Next Top Model and Project Runway Australia.
“We are in negotiations for the host of Australia’s Next Top Model which is back later this year. Project Runway Australia is back with Megan Gale, Alex Perry. We are doing an Australian version of the UK series Got to Dance which will play on FOX8 mid-year and there are a couple of other format shows we’re in the process of signing off on.”
Finally, Walsh assures subscribers, “There are no plans for any price rises at this stage” and confirms Foxtel plans to launch the first of two new technology features in April.
“We will officially launch Catch-Up which will be available to subscribers who have our IQ box. It gives them the opportunity to catch-up on the shows they’ve missed,” he says.
“We’ll also have something pretty special to launch in conjunction with our Olympic Games coverage which will enable our subscribers to watch the games on a tablet.”