Mike Hopkins: Web Revenue Wrangler

Fox executive’s landmark deal for next-day viewing could mark turning point for online TV programming models

After years of struggling to find business models for
the delivery of TV programming online, broadcasters will be
taking a close look at Fox’s recent decision
to change the online availability of its new episodes.

Under the new strategy that went into place on
Aug. 15, next-day access to online viewing of new
episodes—which had been free at Fox.com and
Hulu.com—is now controlled by either a paywall at
Hulu Plus or an authentication scheme for subscribers
of multichannel providers that have cut a TV Everywhere
deal with Fox. Viewers otherwise have to
wait eight days after a premiere to watch online.

The move marks a fundamental shift away from
free, ad-supported online access and toward digital
deals that are part of larger TV Everywhere negotiations.
“As we go forward, more and more of our
deals will be tethered to the pay-TV subscription,”
says Mike Hopkins, who oversees both affiliate
sales and digital strategy at Fox. Hopkins is of course no stranger to
controversial deals, as he continues to spearhead Fox’s noisy push for
retransmission cash.

If Hopkins, whose title is president, affiliate sales and marketing, Fox
Networks, and his affiliate sales team can get operators to sign on to
the strategy, Fox will have established a strengthened business model
for mobile and online distribution by making those rights part of their
already lucrative deals with multichannel providers.

But taking content that has long been available
for free online and putting it behind a paywall is
generally difficult. Initial reaction from the blogosphere
was critical, with some arguing the policy
encourages piracy.

Hopkins disagrees. Strong anti-piracy efforts by
the industry have made content theft harder. Fox
also believes that most consumers will soon have access
to the content via TV Everywhere deals. “When
you look at people who have high-speed broadband
subscriptions, most, somewhere in the mid-90s [percentile],
already have pay TV subscriptions,” he says.

The debate may also be muted by the fact that
more broadcast content is becoming available on
the traditional cable VOD platform. Comcast recently
added Fox network content to its VOD platform
for next-day airing; Hopkins ! gures about 35 million homes will
have VOD access to the new Fox episodes in September.

Hopkins expects to make more content from Fox’s various cable networks
available via apps as part of TV Everywhere deals. Says Hopkins:
“One day, in the not too distant future, I think you will have everything,
both live and time-shifted, on every device.”