Foxnet is a defunct American cable television network that was owned by the Fox Entertainment Group division of News Corporation. Serving as a national feed of the Fox Broadcasting Company (known simply as Fox), the service was intended for areas ranked below the top 100 television markets in the United States (as ranked by Nielsen Media Research) that were not served by an existing Fox-affiliated station.
In addition to carrying Fox's prime time and sports programming, as well as its children's programming blocks, Foxnet also carried syndicated and brokered programs outside of network programming time periods. Fox handled programming, advertising and promotional services for Foxnet at its corporate headquarters on Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles.
At the time of the service's launch in 1991, Fox's programming reached only 91.75% of all U.S. households with at least one television set. This was because, around the time of the network's launch in October 1986, most large and mid-sized markets were served by at least four commercial over-the-air television stations – three that were affiliated with one of the three established broadcast networks, ABC, NBC and CBS, and one that usually operated as an independent station. Virtually all of the stations in Fox that gathered for its charter affiliate body consisted of independent stations that had no existing network partner (in most cases, aligning with the highest-rated independent within the market).
Many smaller markets were served by three or fewer commercial stations, which were already affiliated with at least one of the existing major broadcast networks, leaving Fox's only options to reach these areas being to either settle for a secondary affiliation with one of the major network stations (which would have forced Fox programs to air in off-peak timeslots subject to lower viewership) or affiliate with a spare low-power station; the network rarely chose either option, leaving it with gaps in national clearance in several smaller markets. To expand its distribution to these areas, original network president Jamie Kellner (who would remain in the role until his departure in 1993, when he co-founded Time Warner and the Tribune Company's network venture The WB) developed the concept of a national cable feed of Fox that would provide Fox network programming to smaller television markets throughout the United States where the network could not maintain an exclusive over-the-air affiliation – known as "white areas" – due to the limited number of commercial television stations available or where a local cable provider did not import the signal of an out-of-market Fox station to act as a default affiliate of the network.
On September 6, 1990, Fox reached an agreement with Tele-Communications Inc. – at the time, the nation’s largest cable operator – in which TCI systems in certain markets would become charter affiliates of a cable-only version of the network, breaking the traditional method of broadcast networks offering their programming to over-the-air television stations that distribute content to local cable systems. John C. Malone, then the chief executive officer of TCI, referred to the agreement as "precedent setting" since it allowed TCI systems to obtain "network affiliate status" in places where Fox programming was not available. When it launched, Fox charged smaller cable providers that agreed to carry Foxnet a flat annual carriage fee of $100, instead of the monthly fees traditionally charged by other broadcast and cable channels; in turn, TCI agreed to pay Fox a subscriber fee of 6¢ per month, a precursor to the reverse compensation revenue model that Fox and other broadcast networks would adopt for their conventional stations by the early 2000s.
Foxnet launched on June 6, 1991, originally maintaining a 18-hour daily schedule (from 6:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. Eastern and Pacific Time). By 1992, Foxnet reached 1.3 million subscribers throughout the United States, and served nearly two million viewers at its peak. During its existence, the network never officially identified itself specifically as "Foxnet" on-air; its network identification consisted solely of the Fox logo in use at the time, with a voiceover reading "you're watching Fox."
As Fox expanded its presence to most television markets through primary affiliations with full-power or low-power broadcast television stations, and by the mid-2000s, carriage on digital subchannels of stations affiliated with other broadcast networks, Foxnet's coverage had in turn shrunk to the point where very few areas had a need for the service. In addition, most cable providers in markets that remained unserved by a local Fox station until it acquired a standalone primary or subchannel-only affiliation began importing out-of-market affiliates to relay the network's programming (in many cases, replacing Foxnet on the provider's lineup). Viewers in Foxnet markets that had a subscription to a direct broadcast satellite service also had the ability to watch an out-of-market Fox station via a given provider after receiving permission from the network: DirecTV and Dish Network subscribers could receive either KTTV (channel 11) from Los Angeles or WNYW (channel 5) from New York City (both owned-and-operated stations of the network); until that provider's 1999 merger with DirecTV, subscribers of Primestar could receive either Oakland/San Francisco affiliate KTVU (channel 2, also now a Fox owned-and-operated station) or Philadelphia affiliate-turned-O&O WTXF-TV (channel 29). However, in some cases, satellite subscribers could receive the Fox station with rights to the network's programming within the market.
As time went on, more local or adjacent-market Fox affiliates became available over-the-air or on cable in smaller markets. Eventually, Foxnet's national coverage was reduced to the level where it was only carried on a few small cable systems, none of which had more than 1,000 subscribers. As such, it no longer made economic sense for the service to remain on the air. It was for this reason that Fox's then-owner News Corporation (whose entertainment assets were largely spun off into 21st Century Fox in July 2013) made the decision to discontinue Foxnet. The service officially shut down on September 12, 2006; it was originally slated to cease operations two weeks earlier on September 1, but the shutdown was delayed in order to allow ABC affiliate WABG-TV (channel 6) in Greenwood, Mississippi time to quickly launch a Fox affiliate on its second digital subchannel.
Because of Foxnet's shutdown, 13,000 cable subscribers nationwide were estimated to have lost access to Fox network programming. By this time, the network's market share had increased to 98.97% of all U.S. television households. Indeed, network executives had been looking forward to the point that its national penetration had increased to the level that Foxnet would no longer be needed.
The concept and programming strategy behind Foxnet served as the basis for The WB 100+ Station Group, a service owned by Time Warner and Tribune that operated from September 1998 to September 2006 – which was succeeded by The CW Plus, once The WB and UPN were shut down and replaced by The CW in September 2006 – for markets that did not have a WB-affiliated station; though unlike Foxnet, The WB 100+ – which was also co-founded by Kellner – was stylized (to an extent) similarly to an over-the-air broadcast station and local operators were allowed to tailor the service to their individual market with their own branding, with some of the outlets even carrying local news or sports programming. Foxnet, meanwhile, was formatted in the manner of a traditional cable channel with no local programming content provided by its carriers.
Foxnet aired the Fox network's prime time schedule and its children's programming blocks (originally Fox Kids, then FoxBox/4Kids TV from September 2002 onward); beginning with the network's assumption of rights to the NFL's National Football Conference in September 1994, it also carried telecasts of sporting events produced by the Fox Sports division.
Otherwise, a dual programming model was utilized for Foxnet that differed from the traditional affiliate model – in which the local station handled responsibilities for acquiring and scheduling syndicated and local programming to fill timeslots not occupied by network content – that is used by Fox stations in large and medium-sized markets. Fox maintained responsibility over the programming of timeslots within Foxnet's schedule that were not occupied by Fox network programming, relieving the local cable provider of the duty of having to acquire syndicated programming to fill timeslots outside of Fox's network schedule. The acquired programs primarily consisted of shows that were airing at the time in national syndication and classic television series; syndicated film packages – with most titles being sourced from the 20th Century Fox library – usually filled select weekend timeslots (which following the incorporation of Fox Sports in 1994, began to be limited to weekend time periods that were not occupied by sports programming). Fox also leased time to direct response program producers and ministries to carry brokered programming (such as infomercials and religious programs) during overnight and some morning and early afternoon timeslots.
Foxnet was designed for the Eastern and Pacific Time Zones; as such, the Fox Kids and (from September 2002 to September 2006, after the network leased its children's programming to 4Kids Entertainment) 4Kids TV blocks, which were designed to be tape-delayed, were aired an hour early on affiliates in other time zones. As the network was carried as a cable network without any broadcast distribution, the FCC's educational content regulations for children's programming did not need to be fulfilled, nor was it subject to any FCC regulations which applied to broadcast networks.
Foxnet carried one original program, The Spud Goodman Show, a talk show that aired Sunday nights at 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time – following the conclusion of Fox's primetime lineup – from 1995 to 1998. Though Fox did not carry any national news programming of its own at the time of its launch (and only has one news program presently on its schedule in the form of the political talk show Fox News Sunday), Foxnet did carry a simulcast of sister network Fox News Channel's daily evening newscast Fox Report in the 7:00 p.m. (Eastern) time slot from the channel's launch in August 1996 until Foxnet ceased operations; Foxnet had briefly considered producing a daily news program of its own in 1991, following the hire of former CNN executive Paul Amos to head the network's upstart affiliate news agency Fox News Service (whose functions have since been taken over by FNC-operated Fox NewsEdge).