Frances Manfredi: Exec Behind the Netflix Deal Heard Round the World

From her seat at NBCU, a central position in the shift of the digital market

B&C's 2012 Digital All-Stars

When Frances Manfredi, president of NBCUniversal Cable
and New Media Distribution,
closed a deal with Netflix in 2007 to make
episodes of NBC primetime series available
to Netflix subscribers, she was met with two
diverse reactions: shoulder-shrugging and
people picking up the phone and screaming
at her.


“It was the same kind of stuff that went
on between broadcast and cable in the early
years,” says Manfredi, who was promoted to
her current position in October 2011.

By “same stuff,” Manfredi means arguments
over exclusivity. Back in the day,
television stations expected to pay high
license fees in exchange for exclusive rights
to content. Today, with so many players on
the field, only the highest bidders get exclusive
rights, and those bidders are few and
far between.

Manfredi was eyeing digital deals—which
now grab all the industry headlines—long
before anyone thought doing business with
these upstarts would
be feasible or even lucrative.
Today, all of the
studios consider digital
streaming deals found
money, and they are
rushing to make them.

“Digital was immediately
interesting to me,”
says Manfredi, who
holds an MBA from
NYU’s Stern School
of Business.

Above all, Manfredi
says she is careful about
“preserving the health
of the linear ecosystem. The linear off-net
businesses are still far larger than the digital
ones. That may change in the future, but
right now we would never want to do a deal
on one platform at the expense of another.”

Manfredi’s most recent digital deals include
providing a package of Universal’s movies—
those that aren’t first headed to premium
cable—to Netflix, as
well as last year’s extension
of the 2007 deal
with Netflix, adding
such shows to the package
as Parks & Recreation
and Parenthood.

And while these deals
allow Manfredi to monetize
content that otherwise
might not generate
additional revenue, all of
them also serve the health
of NBCU’s main broadcast
and cable networks.

“There’s so much talk
about ratings erosion because of digital platforms,”
she says. “But what we believe—and
we’ve seen strong evidence of this—is that
distributing shows across more platforms
means more cross-platform sampling. Viewers
are going online to sample content and
then coming back to the linear network to
watch new episodes.”