Michael Hopkins has just been promoted to president of affiliate sales and marketing for Fox Cable Networks. But there’s no time for the veteran to kick back.
Not with distribution holes in the Big Ten Network’s lineup and the start of the college football season just seven weeks away.
Hopkins -- with Fox Cable Networks since its 1997 inception and its general manager of affiliate sales and marketing since April 2007 -- and his team recently concluded a comprehensive deal with Comcast, the nation’s largest cable operator and the biggest distributor within BTN’s eight-state footprint. The pact will raise the network’s sub count to 35 million from 30 million.
However, Time Warner Cable, Mediacom and Charter, which collectively reach another 6.5 million to 7 million subs in those states, all remain on the sidelines for the network, a joint venture between the 11 conference schools and Fox Cable.
“We’re talking to all three. We have less than two months and are hopeful we can get it done,” said Hopkins, who reports to Fox Networks Group president and CEO Tony Vinciquerra.
Although the deal with Comcast could serve as template of sorts, Hopkins knows that each operator has its own set of considerations when it comes to BTN and the other Fox Cable services.
Price aside, one of the key BTN negotiating points with Comcast came down to the production of highlights and video-on-demand content. “Comcast wanted us to produce them in HD,” he said.
Affiliates’ myriad businesses have made Hopkins’ job more challenging and interesting, and the negotiations more intricate and lengthy.
“When I started out there were 36 channels on the dial,” he said of his Fox career that began as a director of affiliate sales more than a decade ago. “Now, these companies are among the largest ISPs and are moving toward all digital signals. They want more and more HD services and offer DVR functionality. They’re into VOD and the telephony business. With these advanced services, we’re helping shape new media paradigms.”
Although affiliates are in different stages of rolling out or expanding these services, Hopkins said there does seem to be one common denominator.
“They want content for all screens, whether that’s for high-definition, VOD or broadband. The DBS players want VOD. [Affiliates] want our content for as many platforms as possible,” he said.
And Fox Cable is working to accommodate those request, including proffering Fox Broadcasting fare to Cox for its MyNetwork On Demand gambit on its Free Zone platform in Orange County, Calif. Hopkins said Fox, which offered some shows earlier this year, will ramp up its on-demand presence with the operator in late summer.
“We want to gauge how the shows perform with the fast-forward mechanism disabled,” he said, noting Fox could look to other markets if the results were encouraging.
In addition to securing more BTN carriage, Hopkins, who has been instrumental with the rollout of the HD versions of FX and Speed, said he will also focus his attention on growing action sports network Fuel.
“There are a lot of opportunities with Fuel. It’s the only one of our networks that targets that teen and young 20s demo,” he said. “My team and I are going to make that a priority.”
He will also be keeping an eye out on the developments surrounding the move of the National Basketball Association’s Seattle Sonics to Oklahoma City and the opportunity it could present for regional sports network FSN Southwest. It was unclear at press time if Liberty Sports, whose FSN Northwest, which John Malone’s company received as part of its purchase for the 41% stake in DirecTV from News Corp., held the club'sTV rights, could lay claim to the same with the team’s eastern migration. Cox, the predominant operator in Oklahoma City and who covered the New Orleans Hornets games, when that NBA club, moved there in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, has also expressed interest.
“Things are still up in the air,” said Hopkins.
Hopkins began his career at Fox Cable Networks as director of affiliate sales in 1997, working on the launch of FX and Fox Movie Channel before moving toward duties with Fox’s regional sports networks. He became executive vice president of affiliate sales and marketing in May 2006 and was named GM last year.
“Mike has done a tremendous job evaluating the rapidly evolving media landscape and how best to satisfy our top distribution partners’ emerging needs,” Vinciquerra said in a statement. “This recognition of his valuable contributions within our overall organization is well-deserved, and Mike’s experience and character will continue to serve our partners and Fox well for many years to come.”