Cable & Content Execs Agree on Everything

Internet video is an opportunity not a threat, and those fights over content rights? Cable's fattest cats say: Don't worry, be happy

June 14, 2011

3 Min Read
Cable & Content Execs Agree on Everything

CHICAGO -- The Cable Show -- Everything is hunky-dory in cable-land, at least according to six top cable and content executives on a keynote panel here.

Cord-cutting is almost non-existent, Internet video is a great opportunity for everyone -- ditto mobile video -- and there's no chance cable is careering toward the fate suffered by the music industry, according to these leading lights.

"Cheer up!" exhorted Time Warner Chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes, when questioned about Internet TV's impact. "This is the cable industry! Quality is up, diversity of content is up, profits are up. We have to take the best content, put it on demand, make it a very good interface because that is what Internet industry is bringing us. We should be really happy and excited about where we are right now."

In what was one of the few almost-somber moments of the panel, Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) Chairman Glenn Britt said the current economy has created "a growing underclass of people who can't afford us if they wanted to," and suggested cable create "smaller packages" of more affordable content.

The comments earned him a spontaneous round of applause. [Ed. note: What a bunch of suckers.]

Cox Communications Inc. President Patrick Esser said he also worried "more about affordability than cost-cutting" in the post-recession era, but Philippe Dauman, president and CEO of Viacom Inc. (NYSE: VIA), wouldn't even buy into those concerns.

"We should be pleased at how we've weathered the worst recession of any of us has lived through," Dauman said, pointing out that in tough times, people are still hanging onto their pay-TV services.

Despite repeated attempts by moderator Liz Claman of Fox Business Network to stir up trouble between the three content execs -- Bewkes, Dauman and Chase Carry, COO and president of News Corp. (NYSE: NWS) -- and the three cable guys – Britt, Esser and Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) President Neil Smit -- both groups insisted they are prepared to work together to make more content available to consumers where and when they want it.

Smit cited growth in Comcast's VoD and mobile offerings and its efforts to give content providers Nielsen ratings and to disable fast-forwarding for those services.

"The pace is moving faster -- the conversations between programmers and distributors need to happen much more often," Smit said.

Carry agreed but added that "the conversation is not all that complicated" because content companies and cable companies both know they have to give consumers a quality experience, in order to maintain their loyalty and keep their cash.

Even Netflix -- often cited as a threat to pay-TV services as well as a bandwidth hog -- was largely dismissed by both groups. Dauman shrugged off the Netflix push into original content, saying it remains primarily a library service, and that Viacom controls its distribution windows.

Bewkes, who has been quoted comparing Netflix's competitive threat as comparable to "the Albanian army taking over the world," dodged that bullet here, saying he's been over-quoted on the topic. Instead, he made yet another push for cable-content unity.

"What we need to do together is get all those networks to get full on-demand rights, get an interface that your subscribers really like that can be personalized and served to them" and offer the broadest range of content possible on the broadest range of devices, he said.

Dauman did make a plea for new ratings from Nielsen or others that would enable ad-supported content to thrive in the mobile video world, and a push for greater interactivity options, such as live Twitter feeds and direct communications between live TV hosts and online audiences.

— Carol Wilson, Chief Editor, Events, Light Reading

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