Last summer, at the Television Critics Association press tour, John Landgraf, the president of FX, asked some questions about Netflix and the actual size of its viewership that have since proved prescient, given the Emmy recognition for House of Cards and the rave reviews for Orange Is The New Black. “I have enormous respect for Ted Sarandos and for Netflix, but I couldn’t tell you how many people watched Lilyhammer or any show on their air,” Landgraf said at the time. “I don’t know if it’s 10,000 people a week, a million people a week, or 10 million people a week. I literally don’t know, and since they have those data, why not ask them to give you the data?”
A year later, Landgraf made an announcement that suggests he’d like to make his own business model–which has expanded from one channel to three, FX, FXX, and FXM–a bit more like the one that he simultaneously praised and questions. In November, FX plans to roll out FXNow, a streaming app that will function like HBO Go, giving viewers the opportunity to access FX content either from a stand-alone application, or by signing in through their cable provider’s portal, which is the way Showtime’s app, Showtime Anytime functions.
Thinking about this development, FX, HBO, and Netflix have an enormous amount in common, even if their business models lie on different places along a continuum of dependence on subscriber revenue and constraint by the cable television model. All three have significant libraries of movie content–“We have more than twice as many films as all of our competitors combined,” Landgraf said today, noting that FX had 21 upcoming premieres of blockbusters that would be unique to his airwaves–and very specific brands in original content. FX, unlike HBO and Netflix, doesn’t own all of the shows that airs on its networks (like most television networks, it buys some of its shows from the studios that produce them), so it will have to negotiate which of its content it can make available on an app in a more granular way than is the case for its competitors.
But even if FX has to do more negotiation to get its app up and running, it makes sense that the family of networks would want to make it easier for viewers to think about FX as a brand the same way they think about HBO and Netflix, as a place to access both a specific set of original content, and an associated library of movies. And part of thinking about FX as a portal rather than as a number on a dial is meeting viewers where they are, which is increasingly on their hand-held devices and through apparatuses like XBoxes. The news that FX was expanding its programming menu into three networks may be the sexy development, because of what it means for how much more content FX will have to produce to feed its beasts. But I think the rollout of FXNow is the most important one. Good content is wonderful. But it’s how easy you make it for viewers to access that content that, increasingly, is what matters.