With Rupert Murdoch apparently in his rearview mirror, Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes has time to think about the future.
One innovative corner of the company is working on the newest edition of HBO Go, which could accommodate content not only from HBO and Time Warner Turner Broadcasting and Warner Bros. units, but from other programmers as well. That could position it as a competitor to Time Warner’s frenemy Netflix, the new over-the-top service from Dish and others virtual MVPD ventures being planned.
Responding to a question about setting up an over-the top package during Time Warner’s second quarter earnings conference call on Wednesday, Bewkes noted that actors and directors weren’t the only kind of talent HBO wants to attract.
“We're investing in top talent including a large team of software developers in Seattle that are working on HBO,” Bewkes said. “We're trying to be best in class” in creating a consumer experience.
And it doesn’t makes sense to confine a digital platform to just Time Warner content. “It important to be for everybody in thinking about that to ask themselves should offerings be determined for consumers based on what a company owns? That's not how consumers would program their dial. And I think one should always look at what consumers want to do and harness those platforms but keep in mind exactly the range of products that consumers want. We think that we can have that for our HBO Turner or Warner product but we're anticipating that people will want more than that,” said Bewkes, one of the first proponents of TV Everywhere.
What isn’t clear is the business model for this platform and which views would have access to it. Would it be for HBO subscribers? Authenticated subscriber of the networks participating? Viewers in markets where cable operators under-market HBO? Viewers where Time Warner partners with operators to boost penetration? Cord-cutters in broadband only homes?
Time Warner had no comment on the plan, and at this point probably is developing multiple options.
Bewkes during the call said Time Warner was open to virtual MPVD models like Dish is putting together. “We just have to believe that it will be additive to the total situation that we've got, rather than subtract.”
He said Dish’s proposed service was designed to target incremental subscribers, particular younger ones. Similarly, Time Warner has let Comcast sell HBO is a slimmed down cable and broadband package targeting consumer that might not subscribe to multichannel TV.
HBO Go could compete against those services. Or it could be an insurance policy future-proofing HBO and Time Warner against a time when the bundle breaks down and consumers have more choice over what channels they’ll buy and who they’ll buy them from.