It was 2013, but Chuck Saftler’s head was in 2020. If he didn’t get creative, the FX exec realized, the deal he was about to cut could prove a bust. He was not about to buy traditional airing rights to every episode of The Simpsons—as well as those to come—only to have the Netflixes of the world cannibalize the arrangement by snagging on-demand rights a few years later. So, Saftler says, he asked Simpsons creator Matt Groening and others at the show’s production company, Gracie Films: Would they grant FX exclusive video-on-demand rights, too? The answer was yes—on one condition.
“They asked that we not take 552 episodes and just throw them into a generic, on-demand folder,” says Saftler (’85), president of program strategy and chief operating officer for FX Networks. They wanted “a curated experience, and something that captures the spirit and history of The Simpsons.” Saftler made his pitch: What if FX built a website and mobile app, exclusive to the network’s subscribers, based on Simpsons World, the show’s 1,200-page episode guide? Gracie agreed, and Saftler got his deal.
The FX Simpsons deal and app is one example of the kind of innovative approach to content that video creators and providers are taking to keep pace with shifting viewing habits. It’s also an example of how streaming technology is changing the definition of TV. “We now live in a world where every device is a television,” Richard Greenfield, a media and technology analyst for the trading company BTIG, told the New Yorker. TV viewing schedules, he argued, are mostly worthless. “TV is just becoming video.”