Fox Networks is planning to split its successful FX channel into two networks as part of a larger effort to enlarge its cable footprint.
A new network, tentatively called FXX, would target younger viewers -- millennials -- with a skew towards comedy, according to media executives who have been briefed on the plans.
The network would program some of the original comedy series that now appear on FX, such as The League and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. It would also be stocked with appropriate theatrical movies from a stockpile FX has been building in deals with nearly all of the major studios over the past few years.
The plans call for a launch in September with about 75 million subscribers. Many of those subscribers would come from the Fox Soccer channel, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.
After the split, FX would continue to air the edgy dramas such as Sons of Anarchy and Justified that attract young adults and baby boomers. FX Networks, headed by John Landgraf, will also continue to produce the movie channel FXM.
A Fox spokesman declined to comment on details, saying only that the company is always examining its programming options.
By giving the entertainment networks different focuses, they might avoid cannibalizing each other's viewership and competing for programming. Splitting a network portfolio along drama/comedy lines has long been done by Turner Broadcasting, with TNT, which features drama, and its "very funny" TBS. AMC Networks is following a similar strategy by having IFC focus on quirky comedies while its develops dramas for Sundance Channel.
Cable has been a major profit driver for News Corp., which is in the process of dividing itself into two public companies controlled by Rupert Murdoch. One company, the new News Corp., will mainly own the company's publishing assets. The other, Fox Group, would be in the TV and movie business, headed by Chase Carey, a big believer in the power of both cable and sports.
Fox is also in the process of creating a national sports cable network that would compete with ESPN, which commands high ratings and higher subscriber fees thanks to its licenses to carry professional football, baseball and basketball, as well as college football.
The network, expected to be called Fox Sports 1, will be built on what is now the racing driven channel Speed. There is also talk that the company's Fuel channel, now gaining muscle from its UFC programming, could become Fox Sports 2.
Of course, all of the changes are subject to agreements with distributors, which can opt to drop channels if the deviate from the way they are defined in their carriage agreements.
Executives from cable distributors such as Time Warner Cable and Dish Network have talked about dropping channels rather than adding them as the cost of programming rises. That could make achieving carriage more difficult for new networks or mean that less lucrative deals are coming down the pike.
I wonder if this will help boost the ratings for FX's shows...