People/Biz

Realscreen Live ’21: Fox alternative head Rob Wade on the risk-reward ratio

Rob Wade, president of alternative entertainment and specials at Fox Entertainment, participated in a keynote conversation June 11 at Realscreen Live with Peter White, TV editor for Deadline Hollywood. Wade (pictured) ...
June 14, 2021

Rob Wade, president of alternative entertainment and specials at Fox Entertainment, participated in a keynote conversation June 11 at Realscreen Live with Peter White, TV editor for Deadline Hollywood.

Wade (pictured) delved into Fox’s unscripted success and the network’s slate, as well as his perspective on the challenges and opportunities for producers and programmers in the genre.

“The unscripted business is in a great place,” he told attendees. “There’s a huge [amount] of money coming into the business from all different parts and I think that’s great for creativity and for the producers as a whole.”

Below, Realscreen summarizes key takeaways from the session.

Realscreen Live ran virtually June 7 to 11. Click here for a round-up of coverage.

‘THE INDUSTRY IS REALLY ENERGIZED’

As the entertainment industry gets back on its feet after a tumultuous year, Wade is optimistic, while acknowledging a few more challenges to expect in the months ahead.

“There was some great development done over the last 12 months,” he said. “Now everyone’s back and you have a real supply issue in terms of staff, locations to shoot… that’s probably the biggest short term issue we’re facing, but overall I feel like we’re back and the industry is really energized.”

The executive hopes audiences can return to the studio come July, provided some of the audience is vaccinated and testing and other safety measures are in place.

“The other piece that we have to solve as well is, yes, the U.S. is getting back to normal but the world isn’t.”

That means continued hurdles for producers working internationally, as virtual pitches and meetings become more commonplace.

“There’s going to be a huge change in this way that we develop shows and pitch shows to each other, it’s going to be different. That’s a big discussion at the moment,” Wade said, adding virtual pitches require more focus and discipline.

“The other thing is you rely on materials more…. I’ve noticed the materials aren’t necessarily getting changed in the way that I would change if I was selling… The best way to sell the show is really be concise with what you’re saying.”

FINDING THE NEXT HIT

On the topic of The Masked Singer and the franchise spinning off from the hit series, Wade said Fox is focused on the format’s sixth season, premiering this fall, and taking things “one step at a time.”

He noted that the format’s spinoff, The Masked Dancer, which premiered in December of last year, faced a number of disruptions.

“I thought it was a great show, I was very happy with it, it performed well. I think we could have done it better,” he said. “Development was tough, casting was harder, we had no audience… There’s things we would have done differently.”

Still, for Wade, there’s endless opportunities to spin off the hit shiny floor show.

“There’s lots of other things we can still do with that brand. But the main thing we want to do as well is find the next one.”

The “guessing” genre is particularly compelling in the streaming era, Wade said. One of the network’s more recent commissions, Crime Scene Kitchen, builds on that proven formula.

“That’s so important now because of the prevalence of streaming and AVOD, the fact that you don’t need to watch as many ads on these other services. Holding people across ad breaks and holding people to the end of the show is ever more challenging.”

As with any global format, there’s pressure for each new season to top the previous one.

“It’s very difficult to sustain these formats,” Wade said, adding it’s increasingly difficult to find gems like Masked Singer, based on the South Korean format The King of Mask Singer, in the international market.

“It’s much harder. The business has changed so fundamentally and I think us as producers and buyers in America have to remember how lucky we are as there’s still money in this market.”

The financial challenges the entertainment industry faces in America don’t compare to that of some other territories, Wade notes, but that doesn’t mean it’s smooth sailing.

“Making a brand new show is incredibly expensive. Producers think, isn’t it the same price? No. There’s startup costs — you’re building a set… you need a longer lead time on your producers, all these things… on top of that you have a giant marketing cost. Season one you’re really making an investment.

“The rules are changing.”

TAKING BIG SWINGS

“The unscripted business is in a phenomenal place at the moment,” Wade said. “Particularly a young producer with great ideas, I think there’s opportunities because there’s so many places to go and sell.”

As a buyer, Wade said his approach is to strike a balance between safe plays and big swings.

“It’s scary… I could buy this safe thing and I could get this safe rating, or I could buy this bonkers, weird thing and it could really not work and that’s really going to reflect on me,” he said. “You need to take great risks to get great rewards. But it’s easier said than done.”

The demand for content and pressure to score a hit should mean more opportunities for younger producers to get a foot in the door, but unscripted is lagging in that area, Wade said.

“There’s a fundamental issue with the fact that scripted has so many young creators who are getting huge awards and making amazing shows, and they’re all in their 20s and 30s,” he added, noting the same couldn’t be said for unscripted.

“If I’m making a show with someone I want to know that they are carrying the fear and the creativity and everything that goes into that. To do that you need more people. That’s what you get out of a young, hungry producer as well, you just get that intensity and that feeling that this is the most important thing in the world to them.”

SELLING TO RIVAL NETWORKS

At Fox Alternative Entertainment, Wade said the goal is to balance original and acquired content.

“I only have a certain amount of slots on the schedule, so obviously the goal is to sell outside, and not just to the U.S. but internationally,” he said. “We’ve got a couple announcements coming up soon about other territories we’re looking to sell and make in.”

He noted the in-house production company is positioned to ensure Fox has a better IP position, controls the creative and is exploring different business opportunities in unscripted.

As for selling to rival U.S. networks, Wade said it’s possible, but the industry isn’t there quite yet.

“The biggest hurdle is going to be a deal. I don’t think the idea is going to be the hurdle.

“Maybe if we come to a place where Universal [for example] is funding and we’re funding together, maybe that’s how this gets sold. But if it’s like, Fox pays 100% of the fees and we can take all the rights, Universal are going to be like, ‘We don’t want to do that. We’d rather make this on Peacock and keep the rights.’ That’s where you’re going to get friction.”

When it comes to the types of content FAE is most interested in, Wade said he’s not ruling any genre out.

“If the idea’s original then you’ve got every chance of getting a hit so we keep a very open mind.”

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