Negotiating Entertainment's New Frontier
Dan Fawcett, ’88, had been looking forward to this trip for some time. He boarded the plane to Boston that spring morning, en route to the city and friends he had not seen since his undergraduate days at Tufts.
Seated next to Fawcett was a passenger who struck up a conversation—about sports and about Pittsburgh. He was moving to Pittsburgh, Fawcett learned, to head a recently-launched regional sports channel. As they talked, Fawcett came to learn a lot about this broadcast venture, as well as about this man who was about to make it a success—Bill Craig, General Manager of KBL Sports Network.
Craig came to learn a bit about Fawcett as well. He learned that this second-year associate at Reed Smith had both a law degree from Pitt and an MBA from Carnegie Mellon. And he undoubtedly saw the telltale traces of drive and determination that would come to define Fawcett.
A week later, Bill Craig phoned Fawcett at Reed Smith to ask if he and his firm could help KBL negotiate a broadcast rights agreement with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
In so many ways, it was the perfect opportunity for Fawcett—emblematic of his drive, of his legal and business acumen, and of his love of an industry that he seemed to know intuitively.
And so, for the next four years, he cut his professional teeth at Reed Smith, working on mergers and acquisitions, securities and banking matters, all the while learning about the sports television business, networks and the entertainment industry, as he grew the relationship with KBL. Even during a stint at Reed Smith’s Philadelphia office, he continued to negotiate KBL’s television deals with Pittsburgh’s pro and collegiate sports teams, as well as its talent agreements with local sportscasters. Craig then offered Fawcett the dual position at the network of Assistant General Manager and General Counsel. It was a pivotal point for Fawcett, for it meant leaving a law firm environment and forging a new career path where he could blend his business and legal talents.
Indeed, KBL was the steppingstone to all that followed. For KBL would soon become part of another start-up company. Only this start-up would be headquartered in Los Angeles and would be called Fox Sports, a division of Fox, the entertainment giant that would become the home for Fawcett’s aspirations and talents.
In the distance sit the Hollywood hills with their trademark Hollywood sign. Just outside Fawcett’s office window is the sprawling Fox campus in Beverly Hills with its quintessential palm tree-lined boulevards, production lots, and TV and movie sets. It is a setting where the past, present and future of entertainment intersect.
A cradle of cinematic history, the Fox campus is a tribute to 20th Century Fox film classics, with sides of buildings bearing colossal 50' x 100' color murals of some of movie’s most iconic scenes. From Julie Andrews singing atop an Austrian mountaintop in “The Sound of Music” to Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell in “The Seven Year Itch.” And right next door to Fawcett’s office, Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker loom 50' tall as they engage in their classic lightsaber duel from “The Empire Strikes Back.”
It is also the place where many of today’s movies and TV shows originate. On any given day, a movie scene is being shot on an outdoor set that doubles for a New York City street. Construction is underway on movie sets. And today’s hit primetime TV series are in production, as sets teem with activity on episodes of such Fox TV series as House, Prison Break, and Bones.
And it is the place where the future of entertainment is being defined. Fawcett is one of the pioneers helping to propel the industry into entertainment’s newest uncharted territory—the digital frontier.
As President of Digital Media for the Fox Entertainment Group, Fawcett is redefining how we will view TV and movies now and into the future—redefining the very how, when and where of entertainment.
“It is all about customizing the experience for the viewers—bringing the viewer what they want to see when they want to see it, whether it’s in their office, in their bedroom, or on a park bench,” explains Fawcett. “And in order to do so, we are looking to bring the broadest array of programming to the largest, most diverse set of digital platforms possible.”
Where once the media industry thought in terms of TV channels, it now thinks in terms of digital platforms—the mechanisms by which you access entertainment. And Fawcett is at the forefront of that movement, creating new ways of distributing Fox programming across all digital platforms—from the Internet to iPods and beyond. He looks to those still largely untapped platforms as he innovates a new, more expansive digital media strategy for Fox.
One of the first incarnations of that strategy is Hulu (Hulu.com). Hailed as one of the industry’s most innovative initiatives, Hulu is an online video service that gives viewers the opportunity to watch current primetime and classic TV shows, full-length movies, and sporting events, whenever they choose. A joint venture between Fox and NBC Universal, Hulu is a free service offering streaming video of your favorite TV shows and movies as well as the ability to share them via e-mail or by embedding the videos on other Web sites, blogs, or social networking pages such as MySpace.
No stranger to negotiating complex rights and distribution deals, Fawcett navigated digital rights deals with not only divisions within Fox, but also with a variety of major studios and companies to make Hulu unlike any other site. As a result, Hulu is the one-stop place to find full-length episodes and movies—not just from one network—but from some of the largest networks and studios in the industry, including the Fox and NBC networks; studios such as Universal, Sony and MGM; sports from the NBA to the NHL; and cable networks like Bravo, E!, Sci-Fi and National Geographic.
Hulu debuted in March of 2008 to rave reviews. Wired said, “Hulu.com may point towards our TV-on-Web future.” And The Washington Post called it revolutionary when it wrote, “If the point of television is watching TV shows rather than watching shows on TV ... then it’s hard not to think of Hulu and what will follow in its wake as a revolution, untelevised.” More recently, PC World named Hulu the number one overall technology product of 2008, ahead of iPhone and Facebook.
So, from classic and current TV shows like The Mary Tyler Moore Show to 30 Rock, to past and future classic movies like “Vertigo” or “Capone,” you now really can watch what you want when you want—maybe even on that park bench.
And that’s just the beginning of what Fawcett has in mind as he plows through this uncharted frontier. “A place where there are yet no established business models to follow,” says Fawcett.
And that is part of the appeal. It is the appeal for a man who is part pioneer, part entrepreneur—twin instincts that first drew him to a start-up regional sports network in Pittsburgh nearly 20 years ago and that continue to motivate him today. Those same instincts led him to help define and shape some of entertainment’s hottest emerging trends—from cable to satellite TV to the digital frontier.
For example, cable was still the new frontier for the entertainment industry fifteen years ago, and Fawcett was at the forefront of that frontier. By 1996, Fox had acquired KBL and renamed it Fox Sports Pittsburgh—one of the 15 regional sports channels that would become part of a new national start-up network, Fox Sports Net. A year later, Fawcett was named Senior Vice President of Business and Legal Affairs for the new network.
It was a defining moment for Fox. The formation of Fox Sports Net signaled a departure for the company, having been known largely for its broadcast network and film studios. With the advent of Fox Sports Net and the Fox network’s blockbuster NFL deal, Fox had just gained a new level of visibility and a new playing field.
It was an equally defining moment for Fawcett. It prompted his move to Los Angeles, into a high-stakes, high-adrenaline environment and into a position of exponential visibility and responsibility. This new position played to his entrepreneurial instincts as well as his dual talents in law and business. In his role as General Counsel, Fawcett, together with just one other staff attorney, drafted and negotiated TV contracts for all professional sports teams in each of the network’s 15 regional markets, for a total of 54 teams. Fawcett also directly negotiated broadcast rights with NASCAR, Major League Baseball, various college conferences, as well as affiliation agreements with cable and satellite systems nationally.
In time, what had once been a relatively new frontier was now a burgeoning enterprise. Fox Sports Net soon became one of the more than 25 cable networks grouped under a new umbrella company at Fox—the Fox Cable Networks Group. Promoted to Executive Vice President of Business and Legal Affairs for the entire portfolio of networks, Fawcett eventually directed a 35-person legal staff, structuring and negotiating deals with cable and satellite companies and for a host of Fox cable networks that had burst onto the scene, such as FX and National Geographic.
Time and again, Fawcett would gravitate toward the industry’s leading edge.
This time, Fawcett turned his attention to the next emerging frontier—satellite TV. When Fox acquired DIRECTV in 2003, he joined DIRECTV in the dual role of General Counsel and Executive Vice President of Programming. There, he negotiated DIRECTV’s deals with hundreds of networks, TV stations, film studios, and sports leagues to carry their content on the DIRECTV platform; handled all programming decisions; and managed a $6 billion annual programming budget. As he now had done numerous times before, he helped further the success of a new business model and forge a new direction for an emerging sector of the industry.
Three years later, Fawcett would return to Fox when Peter Chernin, CEO of Fox and COO of Fox’s parent company, News Corporation, offered him the position he now holds as head of Digital Media for all of Fox.
Now, for the first time in his career, Fawcett has no official legal capacity. Until this point, he held positions that blended his law and business backgrounds. Yet, his legal fingerprints remain clearly visible on all that he does.
“Whether I am negotiating distribution deals, drafting digital rights contracts, or managing business deals, I draw upon my legal training each and every day,” says Fawcett. “I draw upon my experience from a 20-year-old legal career, and certainly from my training at Pitt Law. It’s a part of who I am. It’s a part of how I have been trained. These are the skills I bring with me in everything that I do.
“When I went to law school, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a practicing attorney. That’s why I pursued a joint JD/MBA degree, for the range and flexibility. I knew the law degree would be a critical part of my professional training. And the Pitt Law experience continues to serve as my professional foundation.
“I could never have imagined that my career would have taken the direction that it did. But now, twenty years later, I can say that I still love what I do.”
The momentous airborne meeting that started it all nearly twenty years ago launched a career that saw Dan Fawcett move from a start-up regional sports network in Pittsburgh to head of a major media division in Los Angeles. Over the course of those two decades, Fawcett has always been at the industry’s leading edge, helping to shape and direct its emerging frontiers. And he has loved every minute of it.
“I love being part of an industry that defines a city,” says Fawcett. And now he is not only a part of the industry that defines Hollywood, he is helping to redefine the very industry itself.
Dan Fawcett is the product of a family steeped in a proud legal tradition. From his grandfather, to his father, to his older brother, Dan grew up in a family of accomplished lawyers.
His grandfather, David B. Fawcett, ’26, had been a prominent Pittsburgh attorney, as is his father, David B. Fawcett, Jr., ’53. His father, one of Pittsburgh’s most distinguished lawyers, is a shareholder of Dickie, McCamey & Chilcote, P.C., where he has practiced law for the past 54 years. Early in his career, he served as a Judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County for a short time, and went on to enjoy an extensive, exemplary career as a trial lawyer. He is a Past President of both the Allegheny County and Pennsylvania Bar Associations. His honors and awards are legion.
Dan’s brother, David B. Fawcett, III, ’85, shareholder of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney PC, is a highly successful commercial litigator. He has litigated business disputes of all kinds, but it was his role as lead plaintiff’s attorney in three separate cases over the past ten years that put David in the national spotlight. Two of his three winning verdicts—a $50 million and a $219.9 million award—were named among the “Top 100 Verdicts” in 2002 and 2007 by Verdict Search. The $50 million verdict was subsequently overturned on appeal (and, according to news reports, the fodder for John Grisham’s recent bestseller, The Appeal), and is presently before the United States Supreme Court.
And his brother-in-law, married to Dan’s eldest sister Betsy, is Anthony Basinski, ’74, special counsel to Pietragallo Gordon Alfano Bosick & Raspanti LLP. His practice focuses in securities law, general commercial litigation and construction litigation.
The Fawcett legal legacy is rooted in Pitt Law. Three generations of Fawcetts were trained at Pitt Law, and David Fawcett, Jr., remains steadfastly dedicated to the place that gave him and his family their initial training and opportunity. He was awarded the School’s Distinguished Alumni Award, is a Past President of the Pitt Law Alumni Association, and is a member of the Pitt Law Board of Visitors.
The Fawcett Student Commons, a gathering place for law students within the School’s Barco Law Library, is a testament to the generosity and loyalty of the Fawcett family.