Mel's Diner: Earley Rising
Fox Broadcasting COO Joe Earley, who came up through PR and marketing, reveals why the broadcaster is using counterintuitive strategies to change with the times
Fox Broadcasting COO Joe Earley, who came up through PR and marketing, reveals why the broadcaster is using counterintuitive strategies to change with the times
The fruits of his first full development, production
and launch cycle as chief operating
officer of Fox Broadcasting premiered the
week before, and while it's still early, the news
certainly is better than last fallâ€”when Fox's
Mob Doctor was DOA and the Tuesday comedy
block failed to spark.
Given CBS' success this summer with Under
the Dome, and Fox opening well with
Sleepy Hollow and seeing Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Dads at least at first hold their own
against tough competition, "Everyone sighed a
little in relief that people were going to come
back to television," Earley says. "Every year,
you don't know how much of a shift there is in
delayed viewing. You can have your tracking
numbers. You can have your anecdotal. But
until that number comes in, you don't know."
Well, Earley knew a little bit. After the Fox
veteran's landmark strategy to embrace delayed
viewing with last midseason's "set your
DVR" campaign for The Following apparently
paid off (the show tied NBC's Revolution for
the top-rated new series of last season), Earley
and company set what he calls the network's
most complex marketing matrix ever for the
fall slate, including messages to record, watch
live, catch up on VOD and tune into repeats.
When live-plus-three-day ratings came in,
Sleepy Hollow's premiere jumped 43% from
its live-plus-same-day number to a 5.0/13 in
adults 18-49, making it Fox's highest-rated
fall drama premiere in 12 years, according to
the network. Fox renewed the show for a second
season last week.
Earley discussed the new marketing scheme
at Fox, efforts to shift the network premiere
cycle and plans to expand their multiplatform
businesses. An edited transcript follows.
Last year for The Following, you did the campaign
to set your DVR. This year you're also
talking about VOD in marketing. Why did you
decide to encourage delayed viewing?
Where that all began was with the nonlaunch
Tuesday night last year. What we actually
saw when we looked at the live numbers
was the night held straight through. The campaign
worked. For those people who watched
live, we gave them four compatible shows and
they stayed through the night and watched.
Then we saw when the DVR [numbers] came
the two returning shows, New Girl and Raising
Hope, shot up, which then created the appearance
that the other shows didn't perform.
[The new shows] did not make it into people's
DVRs. So they didn't even sample.
We realized that New Girl and Raising
Hope rose. They were already in [viewers'
DVRs]â€¦.So we said, times have changed. If
people gave these shows a chance, they would
love them....It dawned on me that I will actually
set a season pass for something and
because I have it I will give the show more
chances than I normally would. If I turned
it on live and found a so-so episode, I would
just say 'Oh, it's not for me.' But because my
DVR would give it to me again the next week,
I would say, â€˜You know what. I'm gonna try
it again and see if I like it.' That was really
important to recognize that the viewers were
watching it and using it to curate. So for The
Following we did the controversial push toward
it that was very successful....I really felt
that we had sort of hit that tipping point.
And this led to a similar plan for Sleepy
We did the same patterns for Sleepy Hollow.
Then we had an on-air repeat; we all know
that the cable model benefits from their repeats.
So we scheduled on-air repeats for all
of our premieres. And then we did catch-up
messaging....We did take it a step further for
all of our new shows this year, and I don't
know if I want to give competitive info. I'll
just say we figured out a way that people
can set their DVRs further in advance. One
of the challenges with DVRs is that the shows
only come up about 15 days before the show
airs.....We worked out an old-school solution to a technical obstacle. So twice over the
summer this year, we told people to set their
DVRs for the new fall shows. And then we
did the traditional DVR message right before
launch....We went back to the linear push
only the week before.
We have a foot in both worlds, and that's
made marketing a lot more complicated....
While Sleepy Hollow is not a serialized show,
the viewing of the series is definitely going
to be enhanced if you've seen the pilot. So
we did a big push to catch up on those. And
also all of this has been done for Dads and
Brooklyn. But with Dads and Brooklyn, you
can join at any time. So there's a bigger push
on Sleepy to get people caught up and really
make sure everyone sees that first episode.
We did sort of the same model and it's been
more successful than The Following. So it
opened bigger. The repeat is larger. We're seeing
VOD numbers that are larger as well. So
we at least feel we don't have our head in the
sand about the way a huge group of viewers
are going to consume the show....The VOD
is fantastic because it's fast-forward-disabled,
which is fantastic for our advertisers who are
driving our business....
You can have VOD count
in the C3 if you have the
same commercial load in
it.... We will tell you primarily
to watch it on-air.
That's always our goal.
But if we've got to catch
you in a different way, we
will. It is a super-complex
matrix right now.
Driving the launch was
simple, and the moment
we had these fractures. If
you are driving and you
see a digital billboard, it
was telling you to catch
up for three days. Then
it would switch and tell
you about the repeat.
As soon as the repeat
is over, it's telling you
about the next linear airing
and that's just on a
digiboard. The formula is
different if you're seeing
an ad online, if you're
seeing an ad in VOD, if
you're seeing an ad onair.
Each one of them,
we're thinking: 'Who's the viewer? How are
It's become that complicated. It isn't just roll
out key art with tune in on that anymore....
It has never been this complex. It's a lot of
coordinating from scheduling to marketing to
the marketing team that deals with the [multichannel
video programming distributors}.
That brings us to the expansion of your
role. Now that you're COO, you have responsibility
across the entire network. Was
there one thing you felt you wanted to do
at Fox if someday you were given the authority
As serendipity would have it, the thing I
wanted to change most for probably 10 years
going back to my publicity days is happening
this year. And not because I have a new title
and made it happen. It's in line with something
[Fox Broadcasting Entertainment chairman]
Kevin [Reilly] had wanted to happen for
years, which is get out of the development/
production cycle, which is no longer conducive
to producing and sustaining hits.
I've been complaining about it since I was
head of publicity, because I was saying, 'You
start production so late. You deliver these
episodes so close to air.' If there's any reshooting
or recasting of a pilot, we don't
have it. Then when I moved into marketing,
it became amplified for me because I was
saying, 'You keep delivering your show for
its airdate, not its marketing date.' Marketing
is so crucial now. The universe is fractured.
We need to reach people. And you are
still focusing on when it goes on-air, and it's
It will probably mean that shows will have
been ordered before we ever get to the upfront.
And so the loss of the quote-unquote
'surprise' at the upfront is the only downside
to all of this. But I don't think that surprise
translates into dollars. It's just tradition.
Why is this finally happening? Has something
changed corporately where you're
getting the budget and the support?
I believe this is happening out of sheer determination.
But as with everything else in the
industry, money talks. So what it requires is
the commitment to do series orders instead of
just pilot orders. Which costs more.
Kevin has publicly acknowledged that we
have a bigger budget this year. One of the
most amazing things about working for [this
company] is the entrepreneurial spirit that really
comes from Rupert Murdoch himself and
James Murdoch. They all believe in investing
and acknowledging that change is needed.
Experimentation is needed, and that requires
funding....We're doing a lot of experimenting.
We have these multiplatform production entities,
we have Animation Domination Hi-Def.
We have [YouTube channel] WIGS...and we
are close to doing an unscripted version and
doing a comedy version.
Do you see the comedy and unscripted
digital production entities coming this
I think so. Yes, before we have breakfast
next year at this time.
you switching your campaign this season from "So Fox" to "We Are Fox?"
Five years ago we started that as a way to
rebrand the network and also make it work for local affiliates, which hadn't
happened before. I wanted them to be able to localize what we were doing. It
was a very successful campaign. ...It was time for a change. But also we really
wanted something we could include for our fans. And actually this tag has
evolved several times. It started out 'This Is Us.' But as the father of a
teenager, I can't put bad grammar on our air. So we changed it to 'This Is Who
We Are' and that's just a mouthful. So we're going with 'We Are.' Ultimately 'We
We can include the fans because we can say 'We
Are Audacious,' 'We Are Heartbreaking' you know, 'We Are Gleeks.' 'We Are Fox.'
Our affiliates can use it. 'We Are Judgmental' for their judge shows. Or 'We
Are Informative' for their news. Or they can say 'We Are Chicago. We Are Fox.'
Or 'We Are the Bears. We Are Fox.' Whatever they want to do locally, they can
still localize it but we can include our fans in there, which is very, very
important to us. And then still brand it and band it all together.
Doctor didn't launch last year, were you surprised?
I was surprised because it had tested so well. I
mean it was really, really high testing. [Series star] Jordana [Spiro] is a
super talent and had a lot of action. It had something for everybody. I think
the lesson there is that things test well with audiences who are waiting,
sitting there waiting to watch it. The trouble we have these days is getting
them to watch it in the first place. And, that title, I think was a problem.
And we had a lot of discussion about it.
A lot of people say, 'the title doesn't matter.'
The show's the show. It will redefine it. House. There were big battles
over the title of the show, House. People will think it's about
construction. There was a big contingent in the network who wanted to call it Princeton Planesborough so people
understand. And so there was a big fight and the end result of that is that it's
actually called House, M.D. But the marketing made the M.D. really tiny anyway. So everyone
just called it House.
That's always held up as an example of why the
title doesn't matter. I think it does. I think New Girl's title hurt New
Girl. I think Mindy's title hurt Mindy. I think Mob Doctor's
title hurt Mob Doctor.
You think "New
Girl" hurt that show?
I do think so. I wouldn't call a show New
Girl. It would create a barrier for men. So you can see how often I don't
win the title battle.
On New Girl, which I definitely resisted,
I would even have been happier with It's Jess, which is still a girl's
name. But it's not completely.... I would say that It's Jess on reflection
would have been a bad title. Not only is it still female but it doesn't get to
the ensemble and the ensemble is great.
So I probably would have liked to have ended up
with something that would have applied to all of them. One of my arguments at
the time was she's not going to be new. She's only going to be new when she's
moving in. She's not going to be new after that. So it's not even going to make
The creators and the producers were saying, 'She'll
always be new at something. She'll be a new teacher or she'll be a new this.' I
was like, okay, let's just call it Malarkey. But now it's New Girl.
I love it. It's the title of the show. That part has borne out. That is what
the show is now. When you hear it, you don't think literally there's a 'New Girl.' [Now] I don't think
it's a barrier to men.
I do think
that people still think the show is primarily her though.
And I think there are people at the beginning
who made up their mind who we can't un-convince. But now the show I think doesn't
even take on a literal meaning anymore. It's just the reality.
Hollow, was there any discussion about that?
I totally embraced Sleepy Hollow. The
concern with Sleepy Hollow was worry about title inflation.
explain title inflation?
Title inflation is when you are doing your
awareness tracking; you have a show called Sleepy Hollow or you even
have a show called Fail Safe or The Munsters. The Michael J. Fox Show.
Those things where people are going to say, 'yes I've heard of that.' And they
don't necessarily know whether or not they've heard about it as a TV show.
What we do is we put in some controls for it now
where you have subsequent questions. 'Are you aware of it on Fox?' And what we
see is the percentage will come down to a realistic level and people who
actually understand there's a TV show coming to your network.
titles you fought?
Dads. I have concerns about the title as it might
make the show skew older. I have concerns that people will mistakenly think the
show is just about the two senior dads as opposed to the two friends in the
middle whose dads are moving in with them. It's an office place comedy. Brenda
Song is so funny in the show, in the office. And, you know, it takes a while to
get to her character from, you know, the title Dads.
have said, marketing is crucial. Shows can test great but if you're not seeing
Right. The testing on Dads is through the
roof. So we've gotta get around critics and to viewers to get them to watch it.
Because what we're being told is if they watch it, they will like it.
some of the titles you wanted for that?
The one that I was hoping for was Our Dads
so they would know it was about the guys. But I don't want it to sound like
sour grapes. We can live with it....there was a lot of exploration.
Often, which I think is also the case with New
Girl, is when the creator feels so strongly about the title of their show.
Then you say, 'You know what, they are the creators. They have that passion.'
And, okay, let's just get around the obstacles, which is something we did with New
We had the guys and then we had two pieces to
the tier: one was [New Girl star] Zoe
[Deschanel], because she is so recognizable. The other campaign showed the
three guys sitting on the couch as she stood on it, because we needed people to
know there was male appeal in the show. Male characters.
For The Mindy Project, we had
[creator-star-exec producer] Mindy [Kaling] and then the ensemble. When a show
is based on a star's name, like The Mindy Project, there's obviously
some recognizability in that. But Mindy is an especially female-sounding name.
I don't know why. Because of the 'y' I guess. So we do sort of work harder so
that we're constantly showing the male appeal of the show, because that show is
In the last episode of Mindy I
watched someone make a comparison about how two doctors farted differently.
I'm a huge fan of Mindy's fart jokes. I just read a script the other day that has
that delicate moment when a woman might have passed gas for the first time in
front of a guy, which just had me laughing out loud on a plane.
funny thing about that is it's actually relatable, as opposed to just, "Oh what
a funny sound."
The whole thing about Mindy's show is that it's
all relatable and, of course, torqued up to the most funny version of it. But
it's a really talented ensemble. Genius writing. So funny. But we've got to get
more people to watch it. But that does lead me back to what we were talking
about, which is that things test really well if the audience is sitting there
watching it. But the biggest challenge facing everyone right now is, how do you
get them in seats to watch it? How do you get them to watch it the first time?
How do you get them to put it in their DVR if they haven't watched it yet?
comes to you, Joe Earley, how is this cycle and season different from year's
past? What's your involvement that wouldn't have been a year ago?
With every show, even our returning shows, I
used to on the publicity and marketing side, I used to just sit there and be
able to criticize either our development or our current people or I would just
shake my head if I thought there was an episode that either wasn't good enough
or had a controversy. I can't get away with that anymore.
I now am hopefully in the trenches with the
programming guys and contributing when I can to the process. The way I come to
programming is ... as a consumer. When I went from publicity to marketing, I didn't
try to tell the promo guys how to cut a promo. Instead I tried to represent how
was the consumer interacting with your promo. Do they understand what the show
is about? Are they getting the jokes? Does it seem exciting as opposed to you
need to cut the string here and there. And the same is true for programming.
I grew up in the Midwest. I'm one of eight kids...
I'm the youngest of eight. I have seven nieces and nephews who range from
mid-thirties to seven years old and then some of them have kids.... I try to stay
connected to that, and I constantly say I don't know what every viewer wants.
...There are a lot of people in this business who, quote-unquote, 'know' what the
viewer wants, and I don't think anybody does. The viewer is so complicated. Among
the benefits of the new role are now having research under my purview, I can
get in there. And I've talked a lot with Will Somers, who's our head of
research, about using research in a way that can help programming and marketing
not just reflect on the stats of what's happening but try to find a direction
and opportunities of what's out there.
What's great is helping sort of tear down walls
in departments that may have been siloed before. I always say that I still have
the same goal as COO as head of marketing or publicity or any of it, which is
create an environment where people can do their best work. That really is my
goal. It just has to be a different environment now; that environment used to
be so simple.
of things that are not so simple, there's been a clamoring for data from
Internet TV providers. Do you feel that those companies should share that data?
I worked at HBO for three years before coming to
Fox. And at that time, we didn't really worry about ratings. It was more about
churn. So we didn't put ratings out. I think HBO started putting ratings out
when they had great ratings stories. Having worked at a place like that, I can
understand why they're not putting it out. I have no doubt if they had a
positive story to tell, they would be putting it out. So I guess we're all just
left to draw our own conclusions about it.
But we don't have the right to force it. No, we
can't tell what the success is. But it's up to them to decide what success is
for them. Is their business preventing churn? I don't think it's churn, because
putting it all up there at once doesn't stem churn. If they strung episodes out
over two months at least to get that subscriber fee for two months, like HBO
does, then they could stem churn. So I don't know what their business model is.
We can be really frustrated by it. You know, and
a little jealous because they don't get judged by those numbers every morning
that we do even though those numbers aren't representing what's really
happening. But they're all that's available. But that's not their fault.
Again, they can either be your foe or you can
decide I understand where they fit in the ecosystem, because, you know, catch
up and join in. Right now they are a challenge, especially for broadcast from a
business standpoint because they are pressuring our studio partners to withhold
rights from us because they want exclusivity. So they are using their dollars,
which I don't think anyone knows right now whether or not they are sustainable
dollars. But they are using their dollars they have now to force studios to not
let networks stack their programming so their viewers can catch up. That I
think is detrimental. That's a long-term detriment because if we can't make
this show the strongest hit that it can be, then what's its afterlife? All the
ancillary businesses are based on linear success. We run into this frustration
all the time as marketers.... How insane is it for a consumer right now? Some
shows are next day. Some are on eight-day delays. 30 days. Some are eight days
on one platform and never on another platform. Authenticated, which is a
terrible word by the way. You know, are you authenticated or are you not?
So as a
man of titles, is there another word we should be using for "authenticated"
besides TV Everywhere?
Yes, we have done a lot of exploration on it and
we have a lot of suggestions. But we haven't cracked it. And it's really hard
to fight something once everyone has come on board. We need to fix it though
because what viewer wants to be authenticated?
point about making the most out of a show's first season, much has been made
about Under the Dome on CBS, which was successful for CBS by many
measures. Fox, too, is looking to do more original programming in the summer.
CBS was able to do that show in part because they had the money from Amazon to
fund the production. Now I also have heard people in the business say that in
the long term that deal is not good for the health of that show. What do you
There are several ways to look at that deal when
you see-especially for summer, when the risk is greater-a company figures out
how to get into business and cover their downside. I completely understand that
deal. It's very smart, particularly from a show standpoint and a deal
standpoint. And it makes sense. Do you roll that out across your season? No.
That's not what that's about.
see a deal like that for a Fox show?
It would all be on a case-by-case basis. The
same thing as previewing a show, right? That was an experiment. That was
controversial. Very, very successful for the launch of New Girl. Wasn't
so successful for the second year. It comes up all the time. Are you gonna do
it or not do it? We did it with Mindy this season. Would we ever do it
again? Yes. Would we do it every time? No.
So, is that type of deal possible? ... I think
that you have to be open to new models. You just need to be. The business is
evolving. The business is challenged. And if you put your head in the sand,
insist on doing it the way it's always been done, that's for sure not going to
Never say never, because it's definitely better
to say 'no' a thousand times and 'yes' once than to say 'never' and not even be
open to it. I think you definitely have to look at short term vs. long term.
And you do need to be careful about setting precedents, because once it
happens, your experimental partner is going to want that again. Or similar VOD
partners are going to want them. ... No one has a crystal ball. So how do you
know if you are finding the next new thing or are you creating a problem for
yourself? I never criticize anyone for trying because we all have to keep doing
about the perception in the press about network television. What is network
television's place in the TV landscape and where is it going?
Network is not the shiny new object. The shiny
new object usually gets a disproportionately large amount of coverage,
understandably so. It's new. It's different. And you also have the David and
Goliath story and people want to take down the incumbent and celebrate the
success of the upstarts.
All totally understandable even from a
storytelling standpoint. That's why reporters like that story. So Fox enjoyed
being the upstart because up against the three 50- to 70-year-old networks Fox
comes in as the upstart. ... We enjoyed being the guys having American Idol, being the No. 1 show on
television. I remember being at the network winning our first sweep. Just
winning a sweep back when sweeps mattered. The sweep was huge. Peter Chernin
came and gave us all brooms to commemorate it, which I still have.
That's how they measured back then. Any success
like that mattered. ...There are new incumbents now, I begrudge no one their
moment in the sun even when American Idol, knowing it couldn't stay No.
1 forever. The press had been waiting to write the story of the fall of American
Idol for 12 years, you know, and a couple of times it looked like it was
going down and they thought they were going to get to write their story and it
came back up. And so by the time that it happened when people were surprised
about why is there so much press about it-because it's been a story waiting to
be told for so long. There's a new upstart now.
would consider that Netflix?
For Idol it would be The Voice.
But for networks it would be Netflix. There were a lot of frustrated writers
who were hoping to write about Netflix sweeping the Emmys. And you know every
time they lost a category there were writers going, 'Aaah. What's my story
going to be about?' ....Netflix is going to get lots of stories. They're going
to. They're new. They're challengers. They choose not to release data that would
allow people to take away from them their success. You know, they are defining
what their success is. I would say as a marketer and former PR person I'd say, 'smart
move.' They define what their success is and it might frustrate people but that's
the only measure they have. Right now their success is critical acclaim and
whether or not they are happy with it.
I think broadcast right now has moved to the
background in terms of newsworthiness because the good story is about the
upstart. It's about cable taking over network. And now Netflix overtaking it.
What will happen next with Amazon? Will it survive and all of that?
But I think what will happen inevitably is
storytelling is storytelling and people like a comeback. So when CBS has Under
the Dome open in the summer, which had been seeded to cable, oh it's a
story again. 'Oh. Yes. A network made it.' When Sleepy Hollow opened, we
see people pulling for you and saying, 'oh this is great.' People want to watch
television again. And it'll be cyclical.
So when Netflix has something the critics don't
like or they do start to have some ratings success and then they have one that's
not a ratings success and they still have to share it, it'll all work itself
out. Somebody else will be the new upstart.
Do you foresee
a comeback for network television?
Oh yes; actually, I see that network television
is alive and well.