FX will launch a new premium commercial-free video on demand service on Comcast Sept. 5 that will cost subscribers $5.99 a month.
FX+ will give subscribers access to all episodes of current original shows on FX and FXX as well as shows that aired on FX as it built its reputation for ground-breaking programming.
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The move comes at a time when cable channels are facing competition for viewers from quality programming on commercial-free over-the-top services and financial pressure as the number of pay-TV subscribers falls because of cord-cutting..
For Comcast, which last month launched a similar service with AMC Networks, FX+ expands what the cable operator can offer its customers and could increase the perceived value of a pay-TV subscription.
“We think that this is a way to keep demonstrating value to what it means to be a pay-TV customer,” says Matt Strauss, executive VP and general manager, Video and Entertainment Services for Comcast Cable.
As viewer habits have changed, Comcast has turned to technology to try to catch up with video on demand, DVRs, streaming and downloading on its X1 platform, which offers recommendation engines and voice-operated remote controls to help customers find what they want to watch when they want to watch it.
Strauss told Broadcasting & Cable he and FX CEO John Landgraf started talking about FX= two years ago, and that it is just now coming to fruition.
FX has gone back and acquired the rights to shows like The Shield,Nip/Tuck and Rescue Me that it did not originally produce in order to include them in this package.
“I think with FX+ the FX team has the ability to breathe new life into thinking what it means to be a network,” Strauss said.
In addition to being available via Xfinity On Demand, the Xfinity Stream app and web site, FX+ plus subscriber will be able to get the fully library of ad-free content via FXNow. The shows will be rolled out over time and the complete FX roster is expected to be available in 2018.
FX is free to try to get other operators to offer FX+ to their subscribers. And “If FX ever decided they want to take this over the top, directly to consumers, there’s nothing that would preclude them from doing that either,” Strauss said.
“This is an exciting day for FX networks, because it represents the next step in building a consumer experience as good as our original programming brand,” said FX Networks CEO John Landgraf.
Landgraf noted that FX has been building a library of more than 1,000 episodes of award winning series it has been airing over the past 15 years.
“This initiative represents the first of its kind for an ad-supported cable network, and begins to put us on equal footing with premium networks and streaming services,” Landgraf said.
Strauss said that there are handful of networks that I think in many ways have very similar attributes to the ad-free premium channels like HBO or Showtime or Starz. FX is one of those networks, he said.
Meanwhile along with those premium networks, Netflix is getting viewers used to watching TV without commercials and Hulu has an ad free option.
The subscription price would help offset the cost of lost ad revenue at both FX and Comcast.
In June, Comcast and AMC Networks launched AMC Premiere, which in addition to commercial free episodes of series including The Walking Dead, offers subscribers who pay $4.99 a month exclusive and first-look content.
Strauss notes that the two services have significant differences.
“AMC Premiere is a platform for digital content and maybe even some original content that hasn’t aired on the network,” he said. It is in some was a companion to AMC with a premium experience.
FX is more focused on completeness and creating as robust a catalogue as possible.
“From our point of view, the elegance of X1 is it gives us the ability to partner with networks and experiment and that’s what you’re seeing us do similar to both AMC and FX,” said Strauss.
AMC Premiere has not been promoted yet. It’s still early but we’re pleasantly surprised” by how many people have signed up, he said.
Comcast talking to other networks about ways to challenge the status quo and offer viewers new experiences, Strauss said. He would not confirm that any networks owned by Comcast’s NBCUniversal, such as USA Network.
And should Comcast get more networks to create ad free services, those could be packaged together, he added.
Strauss said that removing commercials was only one reason why these premium packages were being created. But he said the cable operator had done research and found “there’s absolutely a segment of the population that be willing to pay an incremental fee for a commercial free experience,” he said.
The bigger issue was that some cable networks want to re-associate their brands with the popular shows that have run on their channel, but now can be seen elsewhere, including streaming services like Netflix and Hulu.
“I think what FX is doing is really challenging that paradigm and taking action to ensure that they want the best experience for their content to be on FX,” Strauss said.
And while there’s a lot of talk about programmers taking their content over-the-top and direct to consumers. AMC and FX have chosen to work with traditional distribution partners.
“Pay TV customers are the ones who have already demonstrated a willingness to part with money for the content,” Strauss said. “So I think it makes a lot of sense to start there and offer them the premium experience. It continues to add value to pay TV and it continues to provide opportunities to partner with distributors in how we continue to market new choices to customers.”
Here are the shows that will be available on FX+ (asterisk indicates continuing series)
American Crime Story*
American Horror Story*
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia*
Untitled Marvel’s Deadpool Animated Series (2018)
You’re the Worst*
American Horror Story* (6 seasons/73 episodes)
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (12/133)*
The League (7/84)
Lights Out (1/13)
Over There (1/13)
Rescue Me (7/93)
The Riches (2/20)
The Shield (7/88)
Sons of Anarchy (7/92)