Skip to main content

Keeping FoxOn Top of the World

As networks and studios move into another pilot season, you can be assured of two things. First, international markets will continue to be vitally important when it comes to funding new American TV shows. And second, Mark Kaner, president of Twentieth Century Fox Television Distribution, will be mighty busy.

Since taking over his division at Twentieth— which handles international broadcast and cable sales as well as worldwide pay TV deals—in 1994, Kaner has more than quadrupled revenue to nearly $2.3 billion.

When Kaner started his career in 1975, such vast numbers would have been unthinkable. State-owned broadcasters dominated many overseas markets and pay TV was nonexistent. As this changed in the 1980s and ’90s, Kaner become part of a new breed of top Hollywood execs taking a key role in establishing international markets as a crucial source of funding for American programming.

Kaner got into the business after meeting Norman Horowitz, who hired him as an assistant at Columbia Pictures Television. Kaner says he was lucky enough to learn the international TV business there from pioneering executives such as Horowitz and Herb Lazarus. “I did everything from fix the coffee machine to work on big deals,” Kaner recalls.

Lazarus, now president of international for Carsey-Werner Distribution, was impressed with Kaner and in ’78 offered him the chance to run the European operation.

Kaner quickly established his strategic skills, taking the unusual step of setting up a marketing department to help promote Columbia’s shows. “At the time, people weren’t paying a lot of attention to marketing, and I felt it was important,” Kaner says.

That kind of thinking earned him a reputation as an innovative strategist, and Kaner set up his own consulting firm in 1983. As pay TV and commercial TV services began taking off, Kaner quickly attracted a blue-chip client list that included Canal Plus, Yorkshire Television, Television New Zealand, Southern Star, Cecchi Gori and others.

In the early 1990s, Kaner met Rupert Murdoch while trying to engineer a merger between News Corp.’s BSkyB and Canal Plus to create Europe’s largest pay TV outfit. The deal didn’t happen, but Kaner was so impressed with News Corp.’s entrepreneurial culture that he took his current post in 1994.

Convinced that the studios needed do a better job to promote their programming in an increasingly competitive TV landscape, Kaner encouraged more innovative sales operations on his team, including greatly expanded marketing, research and promotional efforts. Success has not slowed the innovating down; it would be hard to find a more groundbreaking example than last year’s massive campaign to simultaneously launch and promote the new series Touch in 100-plus markets around the world.

Kaner’s division also became one of the first international sales teams to work closely with studio TV production units, reading scripts and providing input on how new pilots and shows might fare internationally.

Kaner, who reports to Jim Gianopulos, Fox Filmed Entertainment chairman/CEO, has also worked behind the scenes on many big News Corp. international investments in Germany, Italy, Latin America and other territories. “The great thing about News Corp. is that…Rupert [Murdoch], Chase Carey…and everyone was always looking for something new to build,” says Kaner.

Colleagues and clients also credit his ability to sustain long-term relationships. This is particularly important in concluding some of the massive output deals involving hundreds of millions of dollars, notes Bruce Grivetti, executive VP of business affairs, and president of film programming at HBO, who negotiated several film output deals with Kaner.

“These are incredibly complex, important deals” that run for many years, Grivetti says. “You don’t just sign them and put them in a drawer because inevitably, issues will come up on our side or the studio’s side that need to be resolved.”

Kaner has that same commitment to family, balancing wide international travel with, among other things, shepherding one of his children recently to college visits.

That’s another popular quality of Kaner’s: the understanding that numbers are only a part of any story. Adds Grivetti, “Mark not only has the strategic understanding of where the business is going [with new digital rights]. He also has tremendous emotional intelligence and empathy for the other side that is incredibly important in overcoming problems during negotiations.”

E-mail comments to and follow him on Twitter: @GeorgeWinslow